June 2018 RCLAS Wordplay at Work Issue 55

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6th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2018 Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions

6th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2018 First Place Winner Fiction

Silenced © Claire Lawrence I wake with a dull headache, deathly, disoriented. A murder of small, dirty children, pinked lipped and snotty are squawking. Twelve days now living in the school gym. A mother calls out, “Has anyone seen Mr. Binky? Please, I need to find him!” Her child has lost his stuffy. The mothers commiserate and search. The boy is about three, with thick, black hair. He reminds me of my knobby-kneed colt, and I feel ill and angry. Some things you can’t carry away with you in an evacuation. I lash out, “It’s just a toy.” His mother gives me the evil eye and tugs her son into the soot-filled creases of her arms. The child continues to howl. I rise and drift away. Gliding through the obstacle course to the canteen, I note the sum of someone’s life grabbed in minutes: toys, a collection of small wood carvings, a hockey trophy, photo albums. There is nothing under my cot. More screeches, moans, people crying. The racket is insufferable. I need a coffee and must get outdoors. There’s a map at the canteen. The red zone means the fire is raging out of control. My home is in that area. It’s grim. Coffee in hand, I slip out the door into the dim morning light. At the playground, I sit on a bench and look at the swings and a cluster of small bushes. I spill my coffee. It disappears into the dust. “God help me!” I cry and stomp on the cup. An empty plea. With a shaking hand, I light a cigarette and inhale deeply. Ribbons of soft, grey smoke meld with the fetid air. The alien sun has risen burnt orange and casts a golden glow through the particles of carbon. An eerie calm. West, the sky is charcoal. Lightning set fire to a bush, which beget a blaze the size of a small Canadian province. I breathe in the bitter taste of carnage—insects, deer, camper vans, and Hydro lines. The toxic fumes will cure in my lungs long after the flames have burnt out. Another long drag on my cigarette. I chuckle. I’ll blame the fire for my lung cancer, should it appear. The dirt near the swing moves. The ground is bubbling upward. I butt out my smoke and investigate. A small rock rolls down the mound, and a brown pointed nose with flaring nostrils appears.

It’s a vole. Seeing it gasp for air makes me think of home and how I tried to kill every vole on my property. The beastly vermin had carved tunnels into my lawn and vegetable garden. I tried to drown them with the garden hose. They lived. Can voles survive a fire that burns trees to the roots? They’re resourceful creatures. Like cockroaches. I’m sure they will. What about the other animals? My horses? I don’t want to think about them, but I do. It’s spring and Ellie’s in labour. I couldn’t get a vet to help with the delivery. I stayed with her as she struggled, and the foal came out ass-backwards and floppy. I filled his lungs with air, with life. He snorted and kicked. A tough little fella. Though his coat is jet black, I called him Bailey, after the drink I needed that arduous night. The summer brought drought and a plague of flies. Ellie whipped at them with her tail. Bailey went bonkers and hit his hind leg on the stable door, causing a limp. The summer fires began. I thought they were miles away. The government brought in extra firefighters. Planes flew by. Evacuations happened. Not for me. I believed I was in control. The winds picked up, salting the sky in ash. Phone lines went down. In twenty-four hours, the nearby hillside was roaring. Still, I thought I could wait it out. The whoop of a police car told me otherwise. The officer shouted. “Move out. That’s an order.” “My horses!” I took off towards the barn. A car door slammed and heavy steps came after me. But he didn’t take me down—he beat me to the stable. I grabbed Ellie’s rein and handed it to the cop. Bailey refused to budge, so I put a sack over his head and hauled him out the door. At the edge of the property, I cried Go! They disappeared. It’s all my fault. I hear the creak of a swing and realize I’m on my knees. My throat is clotted and tight, yet a prayer escapes. I flop on the ground bawling unconsolably until I’m cried out. I heave and breathe. My nose is planted by the vole hole, fresh and metallic. I snuffle and sneeze. Lying sideways, I follow the irregular flight of a butterfly. It evades a predatory dragonfly and flits to safety. A tingling sensation on my hand announces the presence of an ant. It scuttles over my liver spots before disappearing between my index finger and thumb. The world isn’t grey and dead. There are patches of life. I hear rustling coming from under a bush. Sitting up, I spot a squirrel—and Mr. Binky. “Found you!”

I hug the black bear. He gives me hope. Inside the gym, I hand the stuffy to the wailing child. He calms and we sit, silenced.

6th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2018 Second Place Winner Fiction

Ghosts © Chelsea Comeau We watched her wade softly into the river, her dress rising around her in a bloom of blue cotton. The water parted on either side of her as it gushed in the direction of some faraway sea we’d never been to, the way all water finds its way home, somehow. We’d met the woman only twice before, the first time at her son’s birthday party, which we’d all been invited to, and again, about a week before she came to the river, when our mothers dragged us to her son’s funeral. The two of them had only lived in our town for about three months before he was killed while riding his bike outside the convenience store near the motor home park. It was not enough time for us to decide whether we liked him or not, so we were mostly unaffected by his sudden leaving. Bouquets of flowers laden with baby's breath were fastened to the lamp post where the pickup truck had pinned him. A picture of him sheathed in plastic faded quickly in the August light, curling at its corners from the heat. And now the boy’s mother was neck-deep in the river. It seemed as though she hadn’t noticed we were there, her eyes fixed to some imperceptible place downstream. The water touched her dark hair where it gathered like a bird’s nest behind her head. pulling until it came slowly undone and feathered wet around her. In the poplars on the far side of the river, a few crows gathered to perch weightless on the slender branches. We put down our toys and stood on the edge of the bank where the grass tapered and became sun-baked clay. The boy’s death was on the front page of the newspaper, and my mother saved the clipped article in the same drawer where we kept our tape measurer and screwdrivers. She spent the afternoon baking a small casserole, but couldn’t bring herself to face the woman’s grief in person, so we ate it for dinner that night with buttered bread. Had I known the woman’s name, I might have spoken it aloud before the crown of her head disappeared beneath the surface of the water. Her

long arms flashed pale, and she slipped like a drowned crane toward the river’s bend, becoming no more than blue that billowed behind her, then nothing altogether. The crows in the poplars left, taking flight in the direction of the electric wires near the junkyard where they went to roost at night. Soundless, we stood lined on the bank as the sky darkened to that burning orange-before-blue of summer. The horizon smoldered and we gathered our bikes from the place we tipped them gently on their sides beneath the bridge, where older boys who were running away from things came to drink their fathers’ liquor at night. We parted ways at the train tracks, veering in the directions of our homes, hungry from missing supper, ready to wash our clothes and bodies of the dust that clung to us. My mother waited in the kitchen for me with cold milk and a sandwich trimmed of its crust. As she did so often since the boy had died, she sat with me at the table and reminded me of her love. The woman would be found tangled in a thicket of brush on the perimeter of town, her blue dress draped amongst the branches that hung over the water, impaled in a thousand places on the bramble. They would pull her gently out and carry her away, and the newspaper would run a small article in which they’d briefly interview the grocer who’d seen her while walking with a green Amazon parrot on his shoulder. Without anyone to claim her, she would be cremated a few days later. We came back to the river the next week to play, bearing paper boats whose bottoms were coated with wax. One by one, we set them on fire and eased them into the current. We watched them follow the woman’s passage to the bend in the river, trusting the flames would be put out before the boats touched shore. It was all we could think to do for her. As our small fires disappeared, we put away the lighters we’d stolen from home and left the riverbank behind. We walked our bikes to the convenience store where the boy’s face was still fixed to the pole, washed out and nearly invisible, now. We bought glass bottles of soda and drank them on the curb outside. We would not go back to the river, and August would end, and we would start a new grade in September. Eventually, the crisp fists of baby’s breath and wilted carnations would be taken down from the pole and thrown away, and we would forget about the woman dying purposefully in front of us. We would grow up to become men and move away from the town that had nothing to offer us. Not one of us would believe in ghosts.

6th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2018 Third Place Winner Fiction

The Dragline © Bryant Ross

There was just a “pop” sound. I didn’t think much of it till I saw his sleeve. It was late fall of my seventeenth year. My first job out of high school was as a joeboy with Vukarziak Dredging. My dad knew a guy who knew a guy who needed someone, and I wasn’t doing anything. I had a heartbeat and all four limbs, so the job was mine. The money wasn’t bad, and I needed a car in the worst way, so there I was, under a sky as grey as a wino’s phlegm, shoveling muck and cursing whatever malevolent gods had placed me there. Rain ran down the back of my neck and off my nose, I was cold and miserable - so began my real education. The dragline was a monster, a snorting, growling behemoth. Its age was indeterminate. I think that at one time it was an orange colour, maybe yellow. There were still some paint remnants, but it was mostly rust now, rust and grease, smoke and dirt. Its massive steel boom swung seventy feet or so out over the water where its cables hummed and howled, tossing its bucket out, and drawing it back in to dump the river silt in an oozing heap. The day was the same as I had come to know, working beside the river. I was employed by a guy who could charitably be described as a miserable old bastard. Cheap, uncaring, in love with the dollar and utterly unable to part with one without an hour of argument and 15 minutes of whining. He had three machines, all old, and wired together it seemed. Five of us worked there. We were our own little universe, a couple of miles out on the floodplain. Mr. Vukarziak described himself as “Dyeh Boz” He was a corpulent, odious man with eyes like a mean dog. His background was Slavic of some sort, I have no idea where and only ever asked him once. His reaction was one I came to recognize as his standard reply to any question.

“VADDAYOUVANT!! GEBBAKTOVORKYOUFOKKER! VADDIPAYOUFOR?? HAH???” Always delivered face to face no further than three inches away, a cloud of tobacco (smoked or chewed) whiskey fumes and saliva. Sometimes partially chewed or digested bits of pickled something were included for variety. I’d like to say he was the sort of guy who covered a heart of gold with a gruff exterior, but he wasn’t. He was an asshole. I never learned the guy’s name. He had run the dragline for awhile. It happened on my third day on the job, I was still bewildered and confused by just about everything around me. I had a vague idea what we were doing there and was just coming to understand how the machines worked together. The dragline drew the silt out of the riverbed, swung over and dropped it in a pile. The front shovel dug at the pile, filling trucks that took it god knows where. The bulldozer maintained the pile and kept it from spreading out too far, it maintained the roads and working area. Mr. Vukarziak sat in his trailer and smoked. He drank, schemed and read the paper. That was, when he wasn’t out ranting at us. It happened on the Monday morning. I was working beside the dragline as it snorted and swung. The rain was falling as usual, the mainline was howling in when I heard the “pop” I looked up at the operator. He seemed normal in every way except for his left sleeve, it hung limp and wet from just below his elbow. It was one of those moments where you know there’s something wrong but can’t quite put your finger on it. He reached for a lever a couple of times, then looked a bit confused as his eye caught the dripping sleeve. He looked at the bloody rag and for me time slowed way down. I remember the cigarette between his lips. One of those pictures that your brain keeps for some reason no one knows. It dropped out as his jaw dropped and left a little pattern of sparks as it bounced off the levers. The cables all went slack as his hands and feet came off the controls, The big bucket crashed to the wet ground in a splash of dark Grey muck and a nest of looping cables. He tried to climb down from the cab but dropped onto his ass on the track. Clean, bright blood jetted and puddled in crisp contrast to the slime that seemed everywhere. I stood, rooted to the spot. I couldn’t move nor speak. I knew that something was happening but my mind couldn’t tell me what it was. He looked at me, his lips and mouth moved, but there was no sound. His eyes gleamed with confusion and fear. The big diesel sputtered and growled in the background.

I stared. It was as if a siren started from a long way off, the long wail began back in his throat, it swelled and receded. He began to rock slowly, wailing. I have no idea what I did after that, the next thing I knew I was on all fours heaving my guts into the same mud. I watched in a detached way as my puke mingled with the blood in the puddles. The guy who ran the bulldozer was patting my back and talking gently to me, the taillights of Mr. Vukarziak’s pickup truck receded in the distance carrying the operator to the hospital. “C’mon boy, he’s gone now, it’s time to make ‘er pay” I got up on rubbery legs and wiped the yellowish stringers from my lips. I followed him up into the cab of the dragline, doing as told me. It wasn’t till I saw the grease-smeared pinkish lump in the mainline spool that I realized what we were doing there. I reared back away from it, it was wrapped with a few turns of cable and a white bone-end stuck out. It seemed perversely clean amongst the black wire rope. He said “ I’m gonna slack off the mainline, tell me when its nearly free” I looked at him like he was speaking Egyptian, I understood what he was saying, but I couldn’t believe it… He wanted me to touch that thing? I began to retreat from the cab, jabbering my excuses. He turned around and looked me in the eye I remember him speaking through slightly gritted teeth, lightly sweating, he spoke quietly and patiently. “Kid, its just an arm, it’s no good for anything anymore, and if we leave it there it’ll start to stink. Just get it out of there and lets get back to work.” I climbed into the bowels of that big machine, it was like I was watching myself do it. God I was scared. *** Smoke belches from the big stack. Wheels spin and the cables sing on their drums. Up in the cab, I sit with a greasy cap perched on the back of my head. Cigarette smoke drifts slowly around as rain patters on the grimy windows. The dragline swings smoothly on its pinion as another bucket of silt splashes onto the pile. My hands rest on the levers. I pull and push just enough, just so. If you watched me run that beast you’d see a master at work if I do say so myself. It’s been a lot of years now. You’d see my grimy hands grasping

levers whose bare steel handles are worn shiny smooth. You’d see the river muck growing in its pile. You’d never see my eyes dart reflexively at the big spool. You’d never see the nervous twitch of my left hand each time the clutch engages and the mainline begins to sing and howl on its way back in.

6th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2018 Honourable Mention Fiction

Lili Marlene © H.W. Bryce

She slipped silently into the inky night, leaving Dale in a deep sleep in his recliner. He had heard nothing, being exhausted from his double-duty watch. But his subconscious had, and he woke with a start. He processed his whereabouts—home, not at the Front. He called for her, “Lily?” The silence alarmed him. He strode down the hall to the bedroom. The bed was empty. The bathroom was empty. He turned on all the lights. He checked the side door. It was unlocked. His scalp prickled at the realization, and he puzzled how she’d managed to untrick his wily door-lock system. But her coat was still on the hook. And her boots were still parked neatly beneath it, where he’d placed them earlier after retrieving them, one from under the bed, and one from the refrigerator. “Damn me for a fool.” He opened the side door and called through the thick December night. “Lily.” He stepped outside and called her name at the back door. The shadows were silent. “She’ll freeze herself to death one of these nights,” he muttered, both aggravated and worried. He hurried back inside, donned his coat and boots, and grabbed hers. Outside, he checked all around the tree-sheltered yard, calling softly, “Lily. Lily, are you there?” He called out all up the long shrub-shrouded lane. She often walked up and down there. The lane was disturbingly silent. His flashlight revealed nothing but cold crystal air and frosted branches.

He looked up and down the silent gravel side road. Which way could she have gone? He thought that after seventy years of marriage, he should be able to figure that out. He remembered how she had the propensity of a moose for turning to the left in the woods, and how he’d got miles of amusement from teasing her about that. Thoroughly alarmed now, he strode to the T-junction. Perhaps the street light, the only one in their little country village, would reveal a trace. He turned the corner and peered out of the night. And there she was, a tiny figure half silhouetted, half spotlighted, by the glow of the street lamp. She was just standing there, in her fuzzy dressing gown. Like Lili Marlene. Lili Marlene, their favourite wartime song...memories...first kiss…singing…How lucky to find her so quickly, this time. Then, her soft, quavery voice carried lightly to him: Underneath the lantern, by the barrack gate, Darling I remember the way you used to wait. 'Twas there that you whispered tenderly… Her voice faltered, her mind seeming to catch another memory. She sang: Silent night, holy night... Dale approached silently, and blended in with his dark baritone as he gently draped her coat over her shoulders. She absently pulled it close around her. Dale was surprised that she was wearing her indoor-outdoor slippers. He hugged her boots. They sang: All is calm, all is bright… And then, in one of those magical moments that you see in the movies sometimes, and which sometimes happens in life, fat, soft snowflakes began to waft past them, some landing on their hair, and one or two landing on their noses. Lily’s voice shifted keys again, and songs. 'Twas there that you whispered tenderly, That you loved me, you'd always be… Her voice faltered again as she smiled at the snowflakes sparkling in the lamplight. Then she looked up into Dale’s big brown eyes with that wistful, yearning, lost-deer look in her own blue-grey eyes.

Dale swallowed hard and forced himself to pick up the tune where she’d left off. Slowly she joined in and they finished the verse: That you loved me, you'd always be, My Lili of the lamplight, my own Lili Marlene. Lily leaned her head against Dale and sighed. “That was such a lovely concert.” Dale steeled himself. After all these wandering times of hers, the loss of “his Lili” intensified each time. With quaking voice, he replied, “Yes, dear, it was.” In 1944, he recalled. Dale couldn’t tell if this wave of emotion was for the singing, the pathetic beauty of his waiflike wife under the lamp light, or the fact that she’d put together an entire thought and had expressed it perfectly in a perfect sentence. Remission? Perhaps? Lily stared at the snowflakes and held out her tiny hand to catch some. “You’re very wistful,” Dale said. “Why am I here?” she asked. “Why? You were waiting for me,” he told her. Lily appeared to ponder that thought. “Who am I?” “You are Lili of the lamplight, my dear,” he whispered. “You are my ‘Lili Marlene’.” After searching his face, Lily made a single utterance. “Oh. Yes.” “Shall we go home now, ‘Lili’?” he asked. She smiled up at him. “I’ll make you a lovely cup of hot chocolate, shall I?” “I’d love that.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and guided her gently out of the pool of light, down the street to the gravel side road, down the lane, and home, humming their favourite tunes to her, and her humming right along with him.

His words were as soft as the gentle snowflakes as he closed the door behind them: “Welcome home, my little ‘Lili Marlene’.” And with a sweet, sad smile, as the cold December night wrapped the little cottage in his protective arms, she said, “I’ll wait for you, darling.”

6th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2018 Honourable Mention Fiction

Eagle Mountain © Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

Their progress up the darkening trail was swift, lead by the milky glow of their headlights. A shroud of pearly fog announced that they reached the lake. Gusts of sleet sanded Jack’s face. Brenda shouted the boy’s names and blew her whistle. No response. Jack felt his hope dissipate into the icy mist. If the lost hikers were anywhere near, they would have heard the noise and replied. The turn of the weather was rapidly worsening their odds. The freezing rain might cause the teenage boys to panic, especially if they were already dehydrated and tired. Jack had witnessed sad consequences of inexplicably poor decisions made by stranded hikers. He made it his personal mission to bring people to safety no matter what foolish actions put them in danger. This was something he needed to do for his community and for himself. And for Jeremy. The familiar ache sprouted in Jack’s chest at the memory of his younger brother. They had been “Captain Jack” and “Skipper Jeremy” in their childhood adventures. He remembered tussling Jeremy’s thick blond curls that evening, many years ago, on this same mountain, when he saw his brother for the last time. There were no Search and Rescue teams back then, and the two of them didn't know much about the rules of survival. They did everything wrong. They went up the mountain too late in the day, enchanted by the clear blue sky and a sense of youthful abandon. They carried no food, no warm clothes, no map. All they had to sustain themselves was each other’s company and a belief in being invincible. Worst of all, when they got lost and tired, they decided to split. Jeremy was to wait huddled under an ancient cedar tree while Jack went to search for the trail. Jack made it out, but they never found Jeremy. “Let’s carry on,” Jack forced his voice to sound calm despite the acid tide in the back of his throat. “They must have made it farther than we thought.”

A few silent minutes later, Jack bumped into Randy who was standing still, his headlamp illuminating the trail. “This doesn't make sense, this is yesterday’s snow,” Randy muttered. Crusted virgin snow covered the narrow ledge in front of them. Nobody went through there today. Jack couldn’t hold back a curse. This meant that the SAR team’s planned route, based on the information obtained from the boys’ parents, was wrong. The subjects could be anywhere on the mountain, except where Jack’s unit was searching for them right now. This wasn’t a novel situation for Jack, but he never got used to the maddening feeling that lives might be lost because his team had wasted precious time to get nowhere. Randy and Brenda had already turned around and retreated down the trail when Jack noticed a movement in the dark. It was just a slight shapeshift, a tremor caught in the corner of his eye. It could have been a night bird or a mountain rodent tending some nocturnal errand, but Jack wanted to be sure. The harsh light of his headlight might have frightened the animal, so he switched it off and let his eyes relax, adjusting to the darkness. All he could hear was the sound of his own breath as he inhaled and exhaled the frigid piney scent, his patience running thin. The sooner he started moving, the sooner they would find the boys. Something moved right in front of him, shading the whiteness of the snow. The clouds broke and moonlight spilled over the rocks, illuminating a small creature standing not farther than a couple of yards from Jack. It was a house cat. Its blue-black shiny coat glistened in the moon glow, phosphorescent green eyes glaring at Jack. It looked healthy and content. Jack crouched and the cat hopped into his arms. “What are you doing here buddy?” He embraced the cat and rubbed its chin. “How on earth did you get here?” The cat started purring and rubbing its silky head against Jack’s face. “That’s Thomas,” a thin voice came from somewhere above, sending an electric shock down Jack’s spine. Bewildered, he looked up. A small girl was sitting on a rockface ledge above the trail. She was dressed in a thin white gown, her arms and legs bare. He face was pale blue like the fog. My name is Vivian.” She smiled.

Her tinkling voice sent alarms to every muscle in Jack’s body. “What are you doing here?” His teeth rattled. “Thomas ran away and I followed him,” she said apologetically. “We’ve been lost for a very long time.” “How did you…” Jack’s thoughts raced. “Is someone with you?” “Just me and my cat,” she said. “And Jeremy.” Jack felt a sudden urge to throw up. “Who is Jeremy?” Vivian laughed, her giggle clinking like broken icicles. “You know, silly. Jeremy. He is looking for you.” “What are you saying?” Jack’s knees buckled. “Where is Jeremy?” Vivian went silent, thumb in her mouth. She pointed to the snowy trail. All Jack could see was darkness and wisps of foamy mist slinking down the mountain, enveloping the child. The cat shrieked and scratched its way from his clenched hands. Jolted, Jack leaped up the trail, his mind swarming with horrid confusion. His boots slipped and slid. He desperately navigated the treacherous terrain, his shaking hands grabbing onto slippery rocks. He was aware of the danger, but unable to stop. The force that drove him was relentless, his yearning to see Jeremy stronger than ever. A rock dislodged under his foot and he started falling. He grabbed a scraggly bush in an attempt to steady himself, but the weight of the backpack threw him off balance, making it impossible to hold on. He tumbled into the black abyss, swirling and bouncing off the rocks. He came to a halt on a soft patch of snow. His heart pounded madly; he was alive. He wiggled his fingers and toes. All his limbs seemed to function. There was no blood that he could see. He couldn’t believe his luck. Aside from feeling banged up, he was practically unharmed. “Jack, over here.” Jeremy’s voice whispered into his ear. Jack suddenly felt warm, his muscles relaxed. Tears fogged his sight. He knew that he would never see Jeremy again, but somehow, he also knew with a certainty what he would see when he turns toward the faint voice. His headlamp was gone, but he saw them clearly - two boys huddled beside a huge rock. “Dude,” the bigger boy said. “Sir, are you okay?” Jack waived to show he was fine. “I’ve been looking for you two. Are you alright?”

“Yeah, we are so sorry we got lost. Are you sure you aren't hurt? It was, like, you fell from the sky.” “What the hell happened, Jack?” Two lights beamed from the dark, followed by Jack’s SAR teammates. “I took a tumble. I’m fine.” He turned to the boys. “Did you see anyone else? Like, a girl with a cat?” They all stared at Jack. Brenda and Randy exchanged a worried look. The boys shook their heads. “There is no one else here. We've been shouting for help for hours.” Brenda leaned into Jack’s face, but he shielded his eyes and turned away. “I'm fine. Take care of the boys.” As he waited for the adrenaline rush to settle down, the euphoria of finding the boys ebbed and sadness took its place. Still, Jack couldn't help enjoy the organized kerfuffle that ensued. Randy transmitted the good news back to the base, Brenda set up a propane stove and started a tea, the boys devoured power bars from Jack’s SAR kit. Excited voices from the radio added to the atmosphere. It was a joy to see the boys, safe and sound, bundled in thermal blankets. For the first time in his life, Jack felt a true sense of accomplishment. By saving so many nearly lost souls like these two, he had justified his life, his growing up and becoming a man, doing all the things that were denied to Jeremy. He closed his eyes and tousled the blond hair in his thoughts. “Well done, Skipper, I’m proud of you.”

6th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2018 Honourable Mention Fiction

Future PRIMEative Š Tiffany Crawford

2048 It's a pleasant enough evening. April's punishing monsoons have ceased, and the iron mauve sky looks like a rolling field of heather. Laser beams from at least four Amazon headquarters and a Google Ubercampus in the Vancouver vicinity crisscross the superhighway. Blinking holographic teenagers with syrupy smiles, drinking Disney Red Bull, pierce the grey. Thirteen corporations rule the world. It's a bleak thought, one I must quickly expunge, because I'm on my way to a party. My Echo Hover, standard-issue, self-flying bucket of bolts, comes to a stop at a traffic light. The car has a few glitches, but it came complimentary with our PRIME membership renewal. So I'm not about to complain. I look in the rearview mirror, plump up my blond bob, put on some lip gloss, and run my hand along my smooth face. Seventy-five and not a wrinkle in sight, thanks to PRIMEpills anti-aging system. Corporate rule had come at a grim cost, with some morally questionable perks. "You look fine," says Kelly. "Can I get away with these red cords? I smile at my friend. I thought we'd look great in miniskirts and heels but I wasn't about to go that far. My stamina is decent, too, and I feel like a 20-something party kid just off to an all-night rave. Tonight though it's not the PRIMEpills that have me pumped, but good old fashioned adrenaline and excitement. Even the dreary sight of shuttered malls and boarded-up mom-n-pop shops, dwarfed by the Microsoft monoliths and Disney steeples, can't sour my mood.

Long gone are the boulangeries that sold fresh-baked croissants with crispy outsides and steaming buttery soft bread on the inside. I can almost smell the butter... "...Hey hold up...Kelly don't press the inflight air fresheners! Bleh! Why would someone want their car to smell like fake buttered popcorn?" I miss the farmers markets and the fishmongers with oysters in the shell and wild Pacific salmon. Sure, I can order a box of croissants off Amazon and they'll be at my house in under an hour by drone. But even dipped in IKEA coffee, they taste as though they've been gathering dust in a warehouse. Remember that old saying there's more fish in the sea? Friends don't dish out that advice anymore. Thanks to micro-plastics there are literally no fish. My mind drifts as I stare out the window at the great grey slabs; from the sky the corporations look like prisons. Inside they do too, with endless rows of tiny cubicles just roomy enough for the employees to stand at a VR console. I should know. Kelly and I both work in public relations for the overlord. We go to work, jack into the Virt and communicate with bloggers, social media mavens, viralists, vipers, Instagram narcissists. Selling is soulless in the Twittersphere. There's no news media, not in the traditional sense. No New York Times or Global TV. The CBC was stripped of public funding when Netflix took over the federal government, but it still produces a few half-decent, corporatesponsored documentaries, though they are too heavy on product placement for my taste. We were some of the last reporters at The Vancouver Sun, which struggled to put out weak copy with a skeleton crew for a few years until finally closing its doors about 30 years ago, more than a century after it opened. But tonight none of that matters. We are getting some of the old ink slingers back together for a blow out reunion at the dilapidated tower at the foot of Granville Street on the waterfront. Of course the building is under water up to the mezzanine, the roof has caved somewhat, and it serves only as a home to squatters, Virt addicts who have scrambled their brains, and non PRIME members. It is condemned, but the PRIMEpolice won't search the Warming Wastelands, which makes it an ideal venue to smuggle in banned booze.

I heard a rumour some of the old snappers are bringing whiskey. The notion gives us butterflies as we land the Echo on the murky, choppy harbour. Global warming standard-issue. All hovers must be able to land on water. We walk along what appears to be a hastily-built jetty of sorts, made of concrete slabs and bits of wood angled to reach the mezzanine, now slightly submerged. We find the mildewy ladder the old scribes had detailed in the party invitation and climb up to floor 3. I look down over my shoulder and see the Echo bobbing on the waves. A shadowy figure in dark clothing moves, sketchy, along the jetty, and I wonder if the Echo will still be there in the morning. When we reach the floor, our doubts and fears are eased by the warm glow of candlelight and incessant chatter coming from inside. We sidesaddle over the ledge of an open window, careful to avoid bits of broken glass and wire. My black ankle-length Time-Warner boots, standard issue, are full of water and my feet are soaked. My discomfort soon vanishes as simultaneously Kelly proffers an extra pair of dry socks she brought in her bag and a former colleague sidles up to greet us with a tray of whiskey shots. The party is buzzing, and there are so many familiar faces. Some, like my former assignment editor Dan, who I spy standing in a corner furtively pouring drinks from a full bottle of Scotch, must be well over 100 years old. Kelly and I take a shot each from Scott, who was one the last employees to work at the Sun and was there with just a handful of staff when the final curtain came down. "So glad you two crazies could make it," he says, obviously inebriated. The first shot makes my head spin a little. As my eyes adjust to the dim light, and I peer around at the gathering of centennials with their taut skin and standard-issue black cloaks, I think of vampires. "Another?" Hell yes," I say. The whisky courses through my veins. It is a pleasant nostalgic burn that takes me back to on-deadline filing sessions at a nearby pub with a couple of my favourite photographers. We always went down to the basement of that pub, where it was quiet and cozy. We were news hounds, and the stories had been typed, the photos cropped. We hit ready to edit and the stress waned as the single malt warmed the belly. The laughter was infectious.

Funny, I never liked whisky when it was legal. I was more of a wine gal. Kelly too. But anything was better than Amazon PRIMEahol. The only "booze" left in the new era prohibition. After it’s release by a few smug scientists, corporate-controlled governments around the world banned all real alcohol in favour of these lab libations, developed to get you slightly tipsy but never drunk no matter how much you consumed. It was sold to the public as a cure for alcoholism but it took some of the joy out of the occasional wild night out. And well, we couldn’t very well drink that synthetic swill at a reunion of newspaper reporters could we? I don’t know where some of those old snappers found crates of single malt, but Kelly and I are grateful, and just a little bit drunk. It's 3 a.m. when we stagger back down to the Echo. “Alexa," I slur, as the dashboard lights up. "Go home." “I think you said Rome, is that correct?” “No you dumb-“ I stop mid-sentence. Even in my wasted state I remember my rule to always be kind to the AI. You never know when it will turn on you. "Alexa, please take us home." “Your destination-Rome- will be reached in five hours via the superskyway and ferry jet." Kelly thinks it's hilarious and starts pressing buttons on the dashboard of the Echo like a toddler in an elevator. “Woo-hoo where’s the turbo boost on this thing? Kit take us home,” she says, and we giggle at the 1980s reference to the TV show Knight Rider. “I think I’m too drunk to drive a self-flying car,” I say. Behind us, the party is still raging in the crumbling tower. “Should we go back in and do a few more shots?” asks Kelly. “Nah let’s go home.” Kelly lived two doors down from me in the Vancouver suburb of Nelson and it would take at least an hour to get home on the Google superskyway. “Alexa, go home,” I say again. “Ok course set for Rome.”

“Oh whatever, Kelly we’re going to Rome," I say, and then add with a smirk: "I nicked some bevies for the ride.” I produce two bottles of banned Beaujolais from my trench coat. “Haha! Nice one mate.” The hover whirs and chugs as it lifts into the air. I lean against the window, and the rhythmic blink and buzz of the lasers lull me into a stupor.

2018 RCLAS Write On! Contest BIOS: Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions

Claire Lawrence has been published in Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and India. She was nominated for the 2016 Pushcart Prize. Her flash fiction work has been performed on BBC radio. Claire’s fiction has appeared in Geist, Litro, Splickety, Ravensperch, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Bangalore Review. Her creative non-fiction appeared in Just for Canadian Doctors Lifestyle Magazine. Claire Lawrence has a number of prize winning stories. She lives in British Columbia, Canada.

Chelsea Comeau is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in CV2, Freefall and Room magazine. In 2015 she was the Canadian winner of the Leaf Press Chapbook competition. In April 2017, she was the artist-in-residence at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster.

Bryant Ross is the host of Vancouver Story Slam, Vancouver’s longest-running monthly storytelling event. Bryant was the Vancouver Story Slam champion in both 2009 and 2014, and has featured at numerous literary events including the Under the Volcano Festival of Art and Social Change, the Vancouver International Storytelling Festival, and the Main Street Car Free Day. He is a father, an artist, a thirty-five-year veteran of the Township of Langley Fire Department, and a damn fine baker of pies.

2018 RCLAS Write On! Contest BIOS: Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions H. W. (Herb) Bryce is former journalist, book editor, teacher, courier, and traveller. His poetry appears in anthologies in Canada, the US, and in India. He served as judge for the 6th Rabindranath Tagore Award International 2017 English Poetry Competition. He is author of a short family book, “Ann, A Tribute,” and “Chasing a Butterfly: A journey in poems of love and loss to acceptance,” the poems of Alzheimer’s and poems for everybody. Chasing a Butterfly is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, FriesenPress.com, and in local bookshops. It is available on loan through the Fraser Valley Regional Library system. H. W. Bryce blogs at http://hwbrycewrites.com. He holds a BA from Western University. Available for readings.

Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki is a storyteller in words and paint. Her literary short stories have been published in the RCLAS e-zine, in the American Fiction anthology by the New Rivers Press, earned honorable mention by the Glimmer Train, and won awards in competitions by Canadian literary associations. She emigrated from Serbia in the nineties and now lives in Port Moody.

Tiffany Crawford is a local journalist, who recently rekindled her passion for penning fiction with the help of a creative writing group she started with her reporter pal Kelly Sinoski. The goal was to encourage each other to get back to their fiction-scribbling roots before the daily grind of the news took over. The short story Future PRIMEative started out as an assignment for that group and grew from there. Tiffany has two kids and lives in Port Moody. She works for The Vancouver Sun and The Province.

Write on! Awards: an afternoon of winning stories and poems. Left to Right: nd rd 2 Place Fiction: Chelsea Comeau, 3 Place Poetry: Angela Rebrec, Fiction HM: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, 2nd Place Non-Fiction: Angela Post, 1st Place Poetry: Jude Goodwin, Fiction HM: H.W. Bryce, Non-Fiction HM: (SheLa) Nefertiti Morrison, Non-Fiction HM: Joyce Goodwin, Fiction Judge: Clara Cristofaro, Host: Janet Kvammen, RCLAS Vice-President, Host: Nasreen Pejvack, RCLAS President, Poetry Judge: Sylvia Symons.

Chelsea Comeau reads her story, “Ghosts” and receives her award at our 2018 Write on! Contest Awards event held June 9 at Anvil Centre.

Co-hosts Nasreen and Janet with HM Winner Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Fiction Judge Clara Cristofaro and HM Winner H.W. (Herb) Bryce.

PIGEONS by Clara Cristofaro

I’m in an armchair in a corner of the library, working on an essay. Pages cover the table in front of me. There are diagrams, lines and arrows. Certain places are starred. Paragraphs shrink under the harsh ex of my blue pen. I look up and see a pigeon outside the library window. She nudges the fluff and twigs of a nest with her beak and eventually settles her hips like a cloud of feathers over two white eggs. Wings flap and another pigeon lands on the opposite wall. He has a small stick in his beak. The father, I decide, though I am not an ornithologist. I am attributing their sexes to their actions, a sexist thing to do. She leaves the nest to perch on the wall and he places the stick tenderly on the pile around the eggs. They may be pigeons of the same sex. Maybe a different pigeon laid those eggs and flew away and this is a strange pigeon keeping them warm. Maybe the two pigeons I'm looking at are grandparents, the nest a multigenerational home. Maybe, like their human counterparts, today's young pigeons have to live with their parents longer.

She sits and waits. He returns with another twig. She moves it. I type ‘nesting pigeon’ into a text message and my phone corrects the word to nestating. What a word. I'm nestating ideas, sitting here stiff as walls, the cool air flowing from the vent to my right. When will the eggs hatch? Would I have to come back every day to catch them in the act, tiny beaks breaking through cracks in the shell, emerging millimetres at a time? I consider it. I could stop in every day to check on them, like a pigeon doula or documentarian. Her chest is shiny purple. She pulls twigs to her and pushes them away. She seems dissatisfied. Broken sticks surround her. There's poop on the cement sill, patches of fluff stuck to it. I try to take a picture but it comes out speckled like the glass between us, the way my self portraits in the bathroom mirror always overlay dots of toothpaste on my face. Children are messy. Does the pigeon know that? She can straighten the twigs around her as much as she wants but once those babies hatch, watch out. Certain older parents are always warning: If you think this is bad, just you wait. If we're lucky, we don’t have a choice. We wait.

How will she keep them alive; wet, wild babies the size of my thumbs? What if crows or seagulls find them? A windstorm could topple the nest from the ledge and send it smashing to the sidewalk. The city is no place for babies. The street below is busy with locals going home from work and tourists who stop and look up at the architecture. The library was designed to look like the Coliseum in Rome. Circular and hollow. I never thought about pigeon families living up here until today. The mother pigeon’s beak has a white stripe across it. She tucks the eggs under her body and settles on the nest again. She bends her head to her feathers and closes her eyes. Nap while you can, human parents say to each other. Sleep while the baby sleeps. I never did. Sleeping while the baby sleeps means you and the baby spend all your waking time together. Instead, while the baby slept, I pretended I wasn't his mother. I spent time like it was tap water, like it wasn't rationed. When the baby woke I was pulled back into his orbit, the planet to his sun. My eyes sting from the warm air and the dust from the books and carpets. Three students at a nearby table whisper and laugh from behind curtains of long hair. One holds up her hand, a pause, as tears stream from her eyes. There are no librarians on this floor. No one hushes us, or tells us how to behave. We look out for ourselves.

The essay is personal and I’m avoiding it. I gather my papers into a pile, slowly so I won't spook the pigeon. She glimpses movement and turns her head to stare at me. I open my notebook to a new page, bend my head, and pick up my pen to write.

------------------------------------------------------------------------ Pigeons copyright Clara Cristofaro

Thank you to our Fiction Judge! The 2018 Write on! Contest Poetry winners will be published in our September issue. The Non-Fiction Winning stories will be published in the October 2018 issue of Wordplay at work.

Upcoming Events Summer 2018 Info: secretary@rclas.com

JULY 4, 2018 Poetry in the Park—Opening Night Every Wed Eve 6:30pm – 8:30pm through Aug 29 Queen’s Park Bandshell. Feature Poets and Open Mic Website https://poetryinthepark.com/ Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/162882397108759/

RCLAS presents “In Their Words: A Royal City Reading Series” Date: Thurs, JULY 19, 2018, 6:00pm – 8:00pm, Free admission Location: Anvil Centre, 4th Floor Room 413B, 777 Columbia St, New Westminster Host: Ruth Kozak 3 Featured Readers: Franci Louann reads Leona Gom (Poetry) Idrian Burgos reads F. Sionil José (Historical Fiction) Bruce Byfield reads The Odyssey by Homer as translated by Emily Wilson (Poetry) Description: In Their Words happens on the 3rd Thursday of every other month. Feature speakers present their favourite author from any genre in poetry, fiction, non-fiction or drama. Presentations include a brief commentary about the author and a reading of selections that exemplify what the presenter loves about the author’s work. A short Q&A follows each presenter.

...and a reminder for all you poets and poetry lovers: “Poetic Justice/Poetry New West” Sunday Afternoons (except Holiday Weekends) Time: 2:00pm – 4:00pm, Free admission. Location: The Heritage Grill, Backstage Room, 447 Columbia St, New West Description: Two Featured poets and Open Mic. Admission is free but donations are welcomed. For information visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/poeticjusticepnw/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/215251815176114/ Email poeticjusticepnw@gmail.com

Watch our website www.rclas.com for Sept/Oct 2018 programs and workshops.


Janet Kvammen, RCLAS Vice-President/E-zine Submit Word documents WITH YOUR NAME and Title on document name) to janetkvammen@rclas.com General Inquiries: Lozan Yamolky secretary@rclas.com

RCLAS Members Open Call for Submissions No theme required to submit. Deadline August 15, 2018 Themes to consider include: Fraser River Summer Holidays Form Poetry Nature and Flowers

Ongoing Open Call for a “New Westminster” Theme Feature. (Historical, Favourite Places,Memories) Poetry, Short Stories, Book excerpts, articles & lyrics are all welcome for submission.

Thank you to our Sponsors & Venues 

City of New Westminster

Anvil Centre

Arts Council of New Westminster

Buy-Low Foods

The Heritage Grill

New Westminster Public Library

See upcoming events at www.rclas.com


Summer 2018 Wordplay at work ISSN 2291- 4269 Contact: janetkvammen@rclas.com RCLAS Vice-President/ E-zine

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