October/November 2022 RCLAS Ezine Wordplay at Work, Issue 94

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10th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2022 Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions

10th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2022 First Place Winner Non-Fiction

THE FUNERAL © Cheryl Andrichuk

If you were in my backyard and listened, you would hear their refrain. The melodic whistle of red breasted robins, the gentle chirping of soft brown sparrows and the chittering of sparkling blue Steller’s jays.

At the start of the pandemic, I invited them into my garden. The birds and I shared a sanctuary in challenging times. I hung three bird feeders in the trees and bought a 10-pound sack of sunflower seeds. I loaded up the Merlin Bird ID app so I could get to know them better. Every Friday I mixed a new batch of hummingbird nectar. My world opened up to the joy of birds.

And no wonder I was smitten. According to a 2012 quality of life survey, people are happier when birds are around. A 10 percent increase in the number of bird species in our environment makes us happier than having 10 percent more money in the bank. I savored my newfound wealth.

Then one day, my joyful birds are gone.

Instead, glossy black crows are hunkering in my trees. As I skulk to my car, they call hoarsely to each other.

Caw Caw

There are just a few at first, but over the next few days their numbers increase and their tyranny intensifies.

They allow the cat the freedom to come and go. Not so with the humans. With me. The minute I leave the safety of my house, they dive at me, claws brushing the hair on the top of my head, before returning to their trees and mocking me with harsh laughter.

Caw Caw Caw

The swooping is intermittent but relentless. I no longer enjoy my yard. I am afraid to walk to the car. The vandals open my garbage bin and drop bits and pieces all over the yard and alley.

Curiously, it is only me they target. My neighbours are fascinated and, as they drive by, they stop in front of my house to gawk. I suspect they are relieved it’s not their yard that has been occupied.

“You should kill one and hang its body from the dogwood tree. I hear that’ll get rid of ‘em,” my neighbour Tom calls out to me one day from his side of the fence. “I’d be happy to help you hang it.”

I’ve heard that too. But I am not a murderer, so I devise a plan. I put thick garden gloves, a shovel and a sack in the trunk of my car. Every time I go out, I’m on the lookout, hoping to find a dead crow on the road.

Over the next week, I find several carcasses. Each time, I bravely pull over and take my supplies out of the trunk. But when I get near the black mass squashed on the road, I am too squeamish to scrape it up.

Whenever I come home, my neighbour Tom is waiting expectantly, holding a rope. When he sees I am empty-handed, he frowns and shakes his head as he turns his back on me and walks away.

My niece, a biologist, gets wind of my plan.

“You know, Auntie, you can’t just use a random dead crow. It has to be one of their own tribe,” she tells me. “I’m afraid you’re just gonna have to live with it.”

But I don’t want to live with it.

I rack my brains for a way to get one of those crows to die. Poison? Slingshot? But honestly, if I can’t scrape a dead one off the road, I’m pretty sure I don’t have what it takes to actually kill a crow.

Instead, I call the city’s wildlife management hotline.

The priggish voice on the other end of the phone informs me, “It is what it is. Crows have adapted to human environments and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

There has to be something I can do about it.

So I do what any normal human being would have done from the start. I google ‘how to get rid of crows.’ Advice that is ‘believed to be effective’ ranges from securing garbage cans to hanging plastic owls.

Been there, done that. Got the t shirt.

Predictably, my search drags me down the web search rabbit hole. I discover a website that tracks where crow attacks happen in the Lower Mainland from swoops to physical attacks. I’m curiously comforted to know I’m not alone.

One crow has reached celebrity status. He even has his own Twitter account where you can track his antics. @canuckthecrow’s stunts include stealing a knife from a crime scene and riding the SkyTrain. YouTube videos abound, including an interview with Canuck on CBC.

I waste way too much time surfing and clicking. In the end, nothing I read is going to solve my problem. I am still the crows’ hostage.

Day after day, I sit on my porch and plot against them. Obsessively. Ineffectually.

One day during my ruminations, I see something out of the corner of my eye. An inky streak plummets to the ground. What is that black spot on my lawn? I can’t quite make it out.

I scan the trees and don’t see any crows nearby, so I creep towards the mystery object to get a better look. It’s a crow. Wings spread wide, beak embedded in the sod. The crow is dead. It’s exactly what I’ve been waiting for and my heart races.

Suddenly my skin prickles and I sense the flutter of wings above me, behind me. I slowly inch my way backwards to the safety of the porch as the rallying cries begin.

Caw Caw

More and more crows arrive. They perch in the trees, on the telephone wire, and along the gutters of my house, forming a protective circle around the lifeless black mound.

Their raucous calls become rhythmic.

Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw

Sometimes they cry out in unison, sometimes one at a time.

Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw

They ruffle their feathers or shift from leg to leg, but they are rooted in place. For three hours they mourn and eulogize their fallen comrade. Then, just as suddenly as they arrived, by ones and twos, they fly away.

I brace myself. What will they do next?

I wait for a minute. Five minutes. 15 minutes. An hour.

Are they really gone? I step tentatively into the yard. The stillness is eerie, and I check for black smudges in the trees. When I don’t see any, I take a deep breath and revel in the tranquility.

Tom sees me and strolls over from next door. We stand side by side and contemplate the lifeless body on my lawn.

“Where’d you get it?” he asks.

“It just fell from the sky,” I mumble, absentmindedly rubbing my arms.

Tom looks at me sideways and cocks an eyebrow. I can’t blame his skepticism. I am not sure I believe it myself.

“Well however it got here, it did the trick,” he says as he pulls out his phone and holds it high to get a selfie with the crow. “But I gotta tell you, I didn’t believe it would actually work.”

“Well, as long as you’re here. . .” I offer him a shovel and a garbage bag. “Would you do the honours? I think we both know I’m not a dead bird kind of person.”

The next day, with the dawn and much trepidation I step into my yard and listen.

I hear it! The melodic whistle of red breasted robins, the chirping of soft brown sparrows and the chittering of sparkling, blue-winged Steller’s jays.

A hummingbird thrums his wings and hovers above me.

“Did you know,” I ask him, “that according to the experts, seeing you again makes me happier than extra money in the bank?”

He makes a clicking noise and darts to the bright red hummingbird feeder for a sip of nectar.

“Thank you,” I call after him with a laugh. “And welcome back!”

copyright Cheryl Andrichuk

10th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2022 Second Place Winner Non-Fiction


After 46 years of hiding my guilty secret, I have a confession to make: I cheated on the biggest test of the year in my Grade 7 Social Studies class. Well, to be more precise, I didn’t cheat exactly; I merely noticed an obvious pattern, and extrapolated from it. That’ll be my defense if the case ever comes to court. I’m pretty sure it won’t, though, since there’s got to be some kind of statute of limitations for middle school academic offences.

It all started when this bearded blustery tyrant of a substitute teacher named Mr. McDermott was called in at the start of my Grade 7 year to teach my class while the regular teacher went on mat leave. My descent from a (mostly) model student into a rebellious delinquent began a mere five minutes into Mr. McDermott’s very first day. As he stood in front of us, introducing himself and explaining his system of severe discipline which he believed would help each of us achieve our maximum potential, a girl named Patti Simmons who sat beside me suddenly reached over and stuck a note on my desk which said, “You’re such a dork.” Never much known for her sparkling wit, Patti could nonetheless get on my nerves like very few people before or since. I ripped the note off my desk and reached over to slam it back on her desk. Of course, Mr. McDermott hadn’t seen Patti’s opening attack, and only saw my retaliatory strike.

“WHAT’S YOUR NAME, SIR?” he barked at me. I jumped in my seat and mumbled my name in response. “I can’t hear you, Mr. Mumbles!! Speak louder!!” Blushing all the way to my toenails, I repeated my name a little louder. “Well, Mr. Matt the Mumbler, you can take that note off of Patti’s desk, throw it in the garbage, and stay in for TEN detentions, where you can contemplate your multitudinous sins!!” Outraged at this unfair and ridiculously excessive punishment, I blurted out, “But it was Patti’s fault!! She started it by putting that note ” “SILENCE!!” Mr. McDermott bellowed. “For trying to avoid responsibility for your actions by shifting the blame, you can stay in for ANOTHER TEN detentions, MumbleMatt!!” I sat there staring in disbelief as he whirled around and wrote my name in the top corner of the blackboard, and then started to write large X’s in a column underneath it.

This is completely insane, I thought. Who does this joker think he is? As he finished writing the last X, and turned away from the board to begin that day’s lesson, it hit me that he had just doled out twenty arbitrary detentions to me in the first five minutes of his class!

Unbelievable!! It was at this point that I experienced what I like to think of as my “Breaking Bad” moment.

Okay, McDirtbag, I thought. You want to play this idiotic game? Fine. I’ll show you some multitudinous sins, you hairy, mouth breathing scumbucket. And from that moment on, I made it my mission in that class to rack up as many detentions as I could, by disobeying him and disrupting the class at every opportunity. As the weeks went by, a number of other kids were inspired by my example, and joined me in what became an unofficial competition to see who could get the most X’s under their name on the “Board of Shame.” But I had no serious rival for that honour. I don’t want to brag, but at my peak I had 273 detentions chalked up under my name, and my closest rival, Anthony Gianelli, only had 186. I was determined to beat McDirtbag at his stupid numbers game, and no one was going to stop me.

Not surprisingly, my marks in his class dropped steadily during this period, and he made it clear to my parents that if I failed the upcoming Final Test in Social Studies, I would fail the course. Under normal circumstances, this fact would have motivated me to study my ass off to turn things around. But there was no way I was abandoning my mission and admitting defeat this close to the end of the year. I hated McDirtbag so much that I was willing to go down in flames just to spite him and his insane reign of terror.

The Final Test was a series of 100 True/False questions covering everything we had studied in Socials since the start of the year. I hadn’t studied at all, but out of idle curiosity I started answering the questions anyway, and got to #17 out of 100 when I stopped, because I had an odd feeling. Looking down at my answer sheet, I noticed that my first five answers were all “True,” and my next five answers were all “False.” Hmmm. Weird coincidence, perhaps? But then I saw that the next five were all “True” again, and the next two were both “False” again. I gasped in disbelief. No way!! Impossible!! What kind of total idiot of a teacher would make up a test with such an obvious pattern of answers so that any moron of a student with half a brain could figure it out in 2 minutes??

My mind was racing. What should I do with this astounding new information? In a sudden flash of inspiration, I decided not to bother even reading the remaining 83 questions, and instead just blasted through the answer sheet at lightning speed, alternating five “Trues” and five “Falses” until I got to 100. I sat there for the next hour with a triumphant smile on my face. I had defeated the cruel tyrant in our final and most momentous battle by outsmarting him at his own game, and tomorrow everyone would know about it when I revealed him as the outrageous fraud that he was!!

The next day, however, had slightly different plans in store for me. At the start of class, Mr. McDermott called me up to the front of the room. With all eyes on me, I braced myself as I walked up to the front, expecting his usual barrage of humiliating comments. Instead, I was shocked to hear him say: “Everyone, I am thrilled to announce that Mr. Mumbles himself achieved an amazing perfect score of 100 out of 100 on yesterday’s test, the first time this has

ever happened in my 26 years of teaching!! Congratulations on a truly outstanding achievement, Matt!! Your hard work and determination are a shining example to us all!! Let’s show him just how proud of him we are, everyone!!”

As I stood there in front of the class, listening to their enthusiastic applause, and gazing up at the clueless Mr. McDirtbag smiling down at me with his absurdly misplaced pride, I felt sick to my stomach. I’ve never wanted anything in my life so desperately as I wanted in that moment to bring the whole farcical performance crashing down around his hairy ears by proclaiming my secret to the class: “You’re a total fraud, McDirtbag!! I didn’t study at all!! I didn’t even read the questions!! This whole thing is a pathetic joke!!” But, for some reason which I still can’t fully explain, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

So I stood there with a phony smile plastered on my face, basking in the false adulation of my peers and my teacher, and trying not to puke. As the other students came up to congratulate me, I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach as I realized that I had just crossed some kind of moral boundary, and that I could never go back. I was officially complicit now in this baffling adult game of duplicitous masks and hypocritical posturing, and I felt overwhelmed with despair. Walking home from school later, that delicious sense of triumph I had felt the day before was completely gone, and instead I felt tears begin to well up. Since there was no one around to see, I let them come, and cried the rest of the way home. Something had broken inside me which I feared could never be repaired.

All these years later, though, I’m actually grateful to McDirtbag for putting me through such miserable torture. Just surviving his class was the real test for me that year, and I’m proud to say I passed that test with flying colours. So thank you for the valuable life lessons, Mr. McDermott, wherever you are. If you’re still alive, I hope you’re doing well, and are happily sitting in your garden, drinking your tea, and contemplating your multitudinous sins. In the almost half a century since you were my teacher, I’m guessing you’ve racked up quite a few more of them.

copyright Mark LeBourdais

10th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2022 Third Place Winner Non-Fiction


I said no to Paris. Declined the opportunity to experience the City of Lights with my love. Where he could buy me roses and champagne and admire Cézanne. Where he understood the language and could order us le petit déjeuner with the confidence of a local. Where he could smoke his once a year cigar while gazing upon the Seine, one of the world's great, iconic rivers.

Instead, I requested Vienna. A place we'd never talked about visiting. True, there was the Danube. And I had a few loose connections that I could string together as a persuading case. One semester of German in university. Brief employment at an Austrian store, where I acquired my dirndl and silk scarf. I played Mozart on Sunday mornings. I liked Jugendstil design.

My undisclosed reason: the remote possibility I might find out what happened next in Malcolm’s dream. I was nudging destiny along.

"So that's the Danube, huh." Malcolm studied the low water line, sluggish against the canal. "Rivers never have the same majesty when they pass through cities."

Many years ago, we'd crossed another river, passing through another city. We were carpooling to a meeting, exchanging random morning pleasantries: political news, the forecast for rain. Malcolm had caught my eye in the rearview mirror and said something unexpected. "Last night I dreamed Joe and I were camping in the mountains. We were sitting around a campfire. I told him I wanted to show you Vienna. And suddenly there we were, you and I, eating Sachertorte at an outdoor café.” Then without a pause, he moved on to the day's agenda.

My face had flushed. A strange sensation had flowed through my veins. The dream felt far too intimate. A vision? A decade later, I still thought about it. Everything else about our unfolded relationship seemed fated. The appearance of the cake, however, was long overdue.

In Vienna though, something wasn’t quite right. A slight misalignment in the cosmos. Malcolm couldn't seem to recover from jet lag, which made him grumpy. He didn’t have an ear for the language anymore and found German menus frustrating. On top of this, I’d booked a hotel on the outskirts of Old Town, up a steep incline. After long days of walking on cobblestones, that end of the day hill was something to be dreaded.


There were small consolations. The Albertina Museum was featuring works by Dürer, and the Belvedere had Klimt’s famous painting “The Kiss.” Malcolm was moved enough by its beauty to buy me a Christmas ornament of the two lovers.

Mainly though, we wandered around Vienna without a sense of purpose Malcolm impatiently following me all over town, me waiting for him to ask me for cake.

One late night after a weary, purposeless day, we happened to pass a tiny restaurant filled with warm golden light and laughing patrons, eating with such great gusto. Malcolm poked his head inside the doorway. Then, his eyes shimmering for the first time in a week, he said brightly, "I'm going to ask if they can squeeze us in for a brandy."

The proprietors, Silvia and Luca, ushered us in with welcoming arms. They quickly assembled a small table and offered a generous pour in oversized snifters. Malcolm settled back in his chair, gleaming with contentment. He asked Luca if there was any chance to reserve a table for dinner the following night.

Without hesitation, Luca clapped, "Absolutely! You must be our guests. Come tomorrow at nine."

The next evening, we arrived promptly at Osteria Numero Uno, wearing the dressiest clothes from our suitcase. Malcolm was puffed like a pigeon with me on his arm. Luca seated us at ‘our’ table. I realized my scarf was missing and excused myself to dash back to the hotel. When I returned, a party was underway. Luca slipped his arm around Silvia’s waist and shared, "This is our last night serving. We have sold our restaurant. Tomorrow, we retire."

Here we were, strangers, just 24 hours since the impromptu brandy, included in their intimate farewell celebration with close friends and family. There were no menus; Silvia would bring us something simmering from her kitchen. Malcolm’s eyes met mine across the table, a knowing glance that affirmed: we just won the dinner lottery. Our hearts could not contain the warmth bursting from our chests.

For the next three hours, we ate, drank, laughed, and floated on a lyrical evening of conviviality. Malcolm bantered with Luca, flirted with Silvia, and befriended the room; Luca flirted with everyone. At the end of the evening, Silvia stuffed a note in my palm a penciled phone number where to reach them in Germany. When we hugged Silvia and Luca goodnight, a little bit drunk and bellies full, our souls felt merged as lifelong friends.

Stepping outside into the starry night, the world seemed different. Lighter. Something had perceptively shifted. Malcolm was alive again. Eyes to the moon, he declared, “This was one of the most memorable nights of my life.” We walked back to our hotel, floating one inch above the pavement.


In the pale light of day, we made a silent pilgrimage to Osteria Numero Uno. The doors were locked. Peering in the window, we could still see photos hanging on the wall, suggesting a return. But there was a stillness now, an emptiness, a leaving. A handwritten paper sign was taped to the window. Retired. Our pleasure to have served you.

I saw on Malcolm’s face, the unrealistic hope of returning one day dissolving into small atoms, then particles, then nothingness. He glanced at his watch, then the sky.

He didn’t know there was still one bit of magic around the corner. But if Malcolm didn’t suggest a small café by two o’clock, I would have to take the reins.

I led Malcolm back through old town like a snake charmer, weaving in and out of streets and alleys, waiting for him to invite me for the mystical chocolate apricot cake. While purchasing last minute souvenirs, I secretly scouted locations. I eliminated the famous Sacher Hotel, where the dessert originated. Too touristy, too obvious. No, we’d never find destiny there. It would be at some hidden gem if only the universe would give me a sign.

And suddenly, there it was: Donnerbrunnen. The four rivers fountain. This had to be the place. I steered us toward the closest café. We found seats on the patio; the server approached to take our order. Malcolm scanned the menu and said, “Kapuziner und apfelstrudel, bitte.”

I was momentarily stunned. Disoriented. The way a bird hits a window and falls to the ground. I wanted to question his apple strudel decision, but what came out of my mouth was, “You’re speaking German?”

“Funny how a little comes back to me, right when we’re leaving. Huh.”

Deflated but still hopeful, I ordered the Sachertorte. I took an awkward photograph of us: future evidence of enchantment. I had no choice now but to bring up the memory, remind him of his prophetic dream. Wait for his confession of mutual intrigue. But Malcolm had no recollection whatsoever. He seemed only lightly amused, the way he sometimes found my observations quirky and charming.

Malcolm took a bite of his strudel. “Sehr gut!” he said with good cheer and offered me a taste. As usual, he’d made an excellent choice. I picked up my fork and tried the Sachertorte. It was dry and, truthfully, a bit ordinary.

“Is it the stuff of dreams?” Malcolm asked with a half-smile.

We were indeed at an outdoor café in Vienna, the City of Dreams and at least one of us was eating Sachertorte.

I half smiled back. “I should have ordered the strudel.”


For a long time, I kept Silvia’s handwritten note, but I don't know where it is now. One day I emptied the drawer where it always was where I had seen it a hundred times before but it wasn't there anymore. I searched online for their restaurant, but it didn’t have much of a digital footprint. Osteria Numero Uno no longer exists. Silvia and Luca have vanished. And Malcolm is gone now, too.

Most times, a dream is just a disorder of random people and events with no esoteric meaning. But on rare occasions, it can possess an undeniable aura of significance. Malcolm’s dream held a spell over me for ten years.

At some point later, I remembered: time is not linear in dreams.

Maybe we were always meant to have cake in Vienna not to discover what would happen next, but to experience what would happen right before. We stumbled into magic at a divinely orchestrated meeting of strangers, to share one perfect evening. For this, I am achingly grateful. Sometimes I imagine Malcolm and Silvia and Luca are sitting at our little table, in some ethereal space, laughing and drinking and telling tall stories. They're just waiting for me to rush back in, breathless.

10th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2022

Honourable Mention Non-Fiction


My youngest sister’s voice lingers in my head after I hang up the phone and begin to make popcorn. Due to our age difference she belongs to the next generation. When she was a baby, I was already a teenager and pushed her around in her stroller and changed the occasional diaper. Even though thirty some years have passed I still feel protective of her and have often worried about her safety. The world is a dangerous place for young women these days more so, it seems, than in my high school and university days.

The smell of butter melting on my popcorn and my dog Jenny’s wagging tail chase away my worries as we make our way to the old, brown paisley upholstered loveseat that is just big enough for the both of us. We cozy up, and I begin a movie that was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar this year: Nightmare Alley, directed by Guillermo del Toro.

It isn’t an easy watch, but for professional reasons I am determined to get through it. However, when, near the end, Stan (played by Bradley Cooper) bends a Labrador Retriever over a desk and starts choking him with a phone cord that gets tangled around the dog’s legs I shift uncomfortably and decide I can’t watch this with Jenny. I will have to finish it later when she plays in the backyard. I quickly turn off the movie and opt for Jungle Cruise instead another 2021 release.

To my dismay, Jungle Cruise includes a similar scene a cursed male ghost chokes a Boston Terrier. What on earth is going on? I’m not even sure that Jenny understands what is happening on the TV screen but she does watch and these scenes make me feel queasy. I just can’t stand the thought of a dog being harmed like that. How can someone even imagine doing that to a dog? Determined not to let a perfectly good bowl of popcorn go to waste, I start The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, settle in and relax. Jenny, her head resting on my leg, appears to be without a care in the world. And then it happens: the Witchking (played by Lawrence Makoare) grabs an Irish Wolfhound by the throat and chokes it. In disgust, I switch off my TV and scratch Jenny behind the ears affectionately

If you have seen these movies, you are likely wondering what is going on. You know perfectly well that Bradley Cooper did not choke a Labrador Retriever in Nightmare Alley, you don’t remember any such scene involving a Boston Terrier in Jungle Cruise, and you’re certain

the Witchking never choked an Irish Wolfhound. Hopefully, you can forgive me for inflicting these disturbing images on you. It was not done without reason. Rather, it was done to make a point, which I’m getting to. These male characters didn’t choke dogs in these films they choked women. Stan choked Lilith, played by Cate Blanchet. The male ghost choked Lily (Emily Blunt). The Witchking choked Eowyn (Miranda Otto). If men choked dogs in Hollywood feature films the way they choke women, audiences and animal rights organisations would be outraged. People wouldn’t stand for it. Curiously, audiences are not outraged about all the women men choke in mainstream movies.

A Vancouver Sun article about the movie Dog, released earlier this year and starring Channing Tatum, reassured moviegoers: “The movie, which was smartly marketed with the tagline ‘Don’t worry, the dog doesn’t die’ in an attempt to win over anyone still reeling from the 2008 tear jerker ‘Marley and Me,’…” In Halloween (1978) the dog the fictitious serial killer Michael Myers kills and eats is spoken of rather than shown, whereas three girls’ murders are shown. Director John Carpenter is far from the only filmmaker to show more consideration to dogs than to female characters or to female viewers for that matter.

One mainstream movie after another depicts a woman being choked, typically by a man. These inclusions are becoming more commonplace, thereby normalizing this violent act in males around the world because Hollywood movies are the ones with the widest reach and media especially movies play a crucial role in shaping people’s attitudes and behaviours.

In a public lecture Gloria Steinem gave in 2014 at Rutgers University entitled Media: More Real Than Reality she said, “Yet because we are communal creatures, the media campfire is still where we learn what is normal, what is possible, what is desirable. Even if we’re informed enough to know that the media are not reality reality is reality they still are the biggest force shaping what reality will become.”

The three movies mentioned above represent a drop in the bucket of films that include these types of disturbing scenes. I could have written about Blade Runner 2049, The Fate of the Furious, or The Mummy all released in 2017. Other recent movies that make the list include: Aquaman (2018), The Girl on the Train (2016), Spectre (2015), and Iron Man 3 (2013). I could have gone much further back and discussed Anthony Dawson choking Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder (1954), Lois Maxwell being choked by James Mason in Lolita (1962), and the scene from The Exorcist (1973) wherein Jason Miller chokes the young Linda Blair.

Men choking women in film is even used as a comedic device. Remember when Cary Grant’s character, David Huxley, pretends to choke Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) in Bringing Up Baby? We are supposed to find this amusing. Can you imagine how audiences would have reacted if director Howard Hawks had shown Grant choking a dog instead of Hepburn?

Dialogue, too, normalizes men choking women. For example, in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) a man encourages another man to choke Syrena (Astrid

Bergès Frisbey) by urging him, “Choke her!” Filmmakers even have their female characters encouraging males to choke them. For instance, in Her (2013) SexyKitten (Kristen Wiig), while ‘talking dirty’ to the protagonist, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), says to him, “Choke me. Choke me with it.” In We’re the Millers, also released in 2013, in a scene where a teenage girl teaches an unexperienced teenage boy to kiss she says, “Now this time I want you to choke me a little bit.” In the 2019 film Long Shot Charlotte (Charlize Theron) tells Fred (Seth Rogen) to “choke [her] a little bit” after asking him if she is being too bossy. The last two screenplays weren’t even written by the same people.

Imagine for a moment that all the women from these examples were dogs. Now how do you feel about these inclusions? How do you feel about the way the male characters treat the female characters? Or about the things the female characters said to males in Long Shot, We’re the Millers and Her? Do you think it’s possible that moviegoers have been desensitized to this type of male violence against women through repeated depictions of this nature? If we aren’t okay with people choking dogs in movies, why would we accept men choking women?

My TV screen remains black and silent. All that is left in my popcorn bowl are the inevitable unpopped kernels. I look down at Jenny resting peacefully at my side. At least, I would if I had a dog but I don’t. What I have is two little sisters, a niece, and many female cousins (and their daughters). I worry about their safety and the men they will encounter over the course of their lives men who have become desensitized to violence against women (VAW) thanks to movies that repeatedly depict VAW. Even from afar I feel protective of these girls and women.

If I did have a dog and it were dogs not women who were choked in film with the frequency that female characters are, I would be outraged. I would join an animal rights organisation and speak out against this appalling treatment. I would campaign for more regard for dogs. But like I said, I don’t have a dog and what would be nice is more regard for women.

copyright Alline Cormier

10th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2022 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction


My wife, Mildred, and I have been married for 50 years. Numerous candles have made their way onto birthday cakes since we abandoned previous tribal affiliations to become senior citizens, and since our daughters deserted the parental nest to create nests of their own, nests which now include grandsons Jeremy, 12 and Bobby, 7.

The boys are our enchantment and our joy but we don’t see them as often as we’d like. They are growing at a rate just above Mach 1 and our own ageing process has speeded up substantially. To us, it seems that these two trajectories are diverging, much like the roads in Robert Frost’s poem, so we decided to make a sincere effort at convergence. We further decided that one way to come together would be to take the boys on an adventure tour during their summer holidays. We hoped to create memories for them to enjoy long after we are safely ensconced in either paradise or a subsidised nursing home.

Mildred, recently turned 70. “I’m lucky for my age,” she says. “I have only two issues, a controlled thyroid condition and a tongue that produces a non stop flow of embarrassments.”

When someone comments that the second affliction is also controllable, she points out that the tongue she’s referencing is the one hidden in her husband’s face. She explains that after casually mentioning travels with our grandsons, I proffered possibilities such as a Galapagos cruise, a history jaunt through Europe or hang gliding in the Alps. With the exception of alpine flying, our daughters were delighted and before Mildred could say, “Clam up, you idiot,” we had the “all clear.”

She then used her status as the practical one to vote down exotic destinations, decree the trip to be domestic and declare that activities would determine the itinerary rather than let the route mandate what we would do.

Next morning, I slipped out early to begin planning. I felt compelled to come up with concrete activity suggestions before Mildred created her own list, a list I was afraid might contain pedicures, aromatherapy, Value Village visits and baroque chamber music. She had already warned against skydiving, stock car racing and bull riding.

The antique insomniacs who show up at Moonbeam Café for insults and daybreak coffee were already there, as was the owner, Miguel, who often serves Mexican ballads and risque stories along with his deliciously strong brew. Listening to his rendition of Los Mandados, accompanied by a disagreement about which province has the worst politicians, I created a list that I hoped would make pedicures and aromatherapy as superfluous as a parka on a polar bear.

Incidentally, Miguel says that Los Mandados is an immigration story. He explains that the song is about a young Mexican man who swims across the Rio Grande but is sent back to Mexico by the Border Patrol. The man tries about 300 times but never succeeds perfect inspiration for planning a trip with Mildred.

My suggestions were adventurous: white water rafting, waterpark slides, glacier trekking and horseback riding. Still, we needed stops that would fulfil two other objectives: parental demands for an educational component and a desire to delay the onset of our own rigor mortis. Mildred to the rescue with Banff National Park, Telus Spark and the Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum.

We now had activities and venues. Next up, an itinerary. Our first schedule ran into the next century. We pruned it and after negotiations, it was ratified by both daughters. It encompassed 10 days, 14 venues, 18 activities, 2 provinces and 2200 miles of driving.

We usually indulge the boys light years beyond what we did with our own children, reasoning that we can easily escape behavioural repercussions. This practice has led our grandsons to have certain expectations. To ensure some sanity, we decided to make them aware of expected deportment. “Rules,” Mildred said. “We need rules.”

I returned to Moonbeam to prepare the first draft. Consultation with Miguel and his regulars produced a caffeine overload and nine recommendations.

RULES FOR RIDING IN GRANDMA & GRANDPA’S CAR for passengers under 70)

No spitting on the floor.

No riding on the roof.

Backseat passengers must share all treats with the ancient persons in the front seat.

No peeing in the ashtray.

No hitting driver on the head with an ipad.

No farting in the car unless the window is open and bum is aimed outside.

All passengers must cheer when Grandpa sings.

Do not put feet on driver’s head while car is moving.

SPECIAL EXTRA IMPORTANT RULE: Passengers must pay a penalty of one ice cream cone to Grandpa for each broken rule.

The last rule inspired more negotiations and I agreed to share all extorted sweets with other septuagenarians in the car.

We decided to limit driving on the first day. The boys had first choice and picked a well known donut shop for lunch. The muffins and milkshakes tasted heavenly. It was Mildred’s turn to choose the dinner venue, however, and the boys sensed a storm cloud on the horizon. “I hate kale,” Jeremy said. “It makes me throw up.”

Lunch over, we proceeded to Cultus Lake Water Park. By the time Mildred and I donned our bathing suits, the boys had tested every slide and started a cycle: run up the hill, slide down as fast as possible, repeat.

After much coercion and public shaming, Grandpa agreed to try one slide. Gasping, he climbed to the launch site, lined up with a group of ten year olds, sat down, gave a mighty shove and … STUCK! Chased by derisive laughter he pulled himself down by hand, reaching a velocity of one foot per pull on the steepest part of the slide. The hilarity grew thunderous as each movement of dry bathing suit against plastic produced a loud flatulent sound.

Embarrassed, he sought refuge behind a newspaper in the far corner of the park. Periodically, a pint sized patron led a group of giggling peers and the occasional smirking parent across the lawn to point Grandpa out to friends who had been so unfortunate as to miss the whole excruciating incident. Mildred invoked the fiction of a backache after she saw the entire sorry performance.

The day dragged on. The boys made dozens of up and down trips. More little people sidled by to get a peek at the park’s newest attraction, now named, The Schmuck Who Stuck. After a very long afternoon, it was time to go.

Impending departure brought a chance at redemption. “Come on Grandpa,” the boys yelled, “We’ll go on a steep one so you won’t stick.” A gang of tiny thugs gathered and began to chant, “GO, GRANDPA, GO.” Reluctantly, I agreed and the crowd led me up the hill.

At the top, I realised we were about to slide down the ZOMBIE MONSTER DEATH

DEFYING BARRACUDA COBRA FANG RAGING WATERFALL! The elevation had to be over 300 feet and the drop obviously gave lift off when you broke through the sound barrier. Standing between a six year old girl and the boys, I hesitated. Bobby pushed on my leg. “Go ahead, Grandpa. It’s fun.” It was then that I made the most foolhardy decision of my life. I stepped onto the slide.

Today, Mildred brought the boys to visit for the first time since our trip was cut short. Bobby was upbeat. “At least you didn’t stick on the last one,” he said.


Jeremy was more solicitous. “Don’t worry, Grandpa. Next time, you can go on the baby slide so you won’t get hurt.”

Later, I asked Mildred to buy me a cane at Value Village. When she does and I’m mobile again, I’m leaving alone for the Galapagos.

10th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2022 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction


“Wow, gas is only $1.09 here should we fill up?” I ask. We are headed homeward after a vegan lunch at the Bluebell Café with a long time Kaslo friend, a former public health nurse who inoculated both of my babies almost forty years ago.

“No, we can make it home,” my daughter, Robin decides. “I like to spend my gas money in my own community if I can.”

The winding asphalt trail that is Highway 31A snakes its way round the base of the snowtopped Selkirk Mountains on its forty seven kilometre journey to link the village of Kaslo, perched on Kootenay Lake with New Denver, at the edge of Slocan Lake.

Today my daughter drives while my cherished granddaughter, not quite two, dozes off in her car seat behind me. The burbling, rock lined Kaslo River, not yet swollen to its ‘spring run off’ grandeur accompanies us for a stretch, then disappears into the foliage only to re appear as a wide, shallow gravel streambed later on. As our elevation allows, we are treated to lavish vistas of the Valhalla glacier above and steep s turns below, bordered by breath catching drop offs at the road’s shoulder. In the fall the tamaracks soften this stark landscape with a froth of gold.

Robin expertly navigates a curve in the narrow road at the same time as an approaching logging truck.

“Art Nesbitt Logging Ltd.” I read. “Is that little Artie that was held back in your grade one class?”

“Hmm…I think so. Seems to be doing ok now.” A young mule deer appears by the roadside, and she brakes, ready for a sudden leap onto the asphalt. It stays on the shoulder, nibbling on the fresh, tender greenery.

We pass Fish and Bear Lakes, still partly frozen over, trying to remember which is which. A mistake was made on a local map years before, confusing the two names. Now no one can remember. I do remember skating under a bright moon with friends one cold night. On Fish Lake, I think.

Around the next curve sits derelict mining buildings, remnants of the ‘silvery Slocan’ era, roofs caved in under the wet weight of snow, weathered siding falling away from the hundred year old structure.

Every few years a developer holds a public forum, floating the idea of turning this ghost town into a luxury ski resort and applies to the government to be awarded masses of crown land. They promise much needed jobs and a boost to local businesses who depend on the tourist dollar.

The environmentalists who have been drawn to this area for its untouched beauty become rabid in their defense of the grizzly bear natural habitat. They write letters to the local newspaper, organize marches, paint signs and chain themselves to heavy duty equipment. The logging industry sees opportunity and are willing to forego their lush huckleberry harvest via their ‘all terrain vehicles’ for the sake of economic improvement. The two sides face off at the local community hall. Things cool off. The big money leaves town and a few years later the cycle begins again.

Dark clouds begin to gather as we retrace the route of the hopeful prospector who followed his dream into these mountains. A road sign, designating its significance as an historic site marks the turn off for Sandon, the famed ghost town, Sodom and Gomorrah for the luckier miners.

We pass the laneway to our former home, built in the middle of a ten acre lot by my partner and myself, then sold when the ‘partnership’ eroded. My daughter was born there. Now, almost 40 years later she has been drawn back to her birthplace. Still remote but with the addition of the internet and on line shopping. On the grid now. Even the protest movement to disallow cell phone coverage was lost.

On the last bend in the road as we approach New Denver, we see a heavy duty, green pick-up truck waiting at a stop sign on a side street. It begins to slowly pull out into our path. “He’s not stopping. HE’S NOT STOPPING!”

She beeps the horn, over and over and swerves left to try to avoid the powerful front bumper headed our way.

During that fraction of a second, I am driving my red Pinto by that same side street in the early winter of 1979. I have my two pre schoolers in the car as well as four pairs of newly sharpened skates. Seat belt use has yet to become mandatory. I hit a patch of black ice and skid towards the shoulder. The drifting car almost stops but not soon enough. It creeps towards the edge of the embankment and slides down the ten foot drop, catching on a rock or small tree with just enough force to flip us over onto our roof. No injuries, but a bone chilling sight to behold before it was righted and towed away. Later, there were many jovial driving admonishments to remember, Shiny side up, rubber side down!

“Hold on!” Slow motion again the massive pick up truck bore down on our small car with a hard jolt. No airbags, no broken windows. Just the sound of torn metal and shattered headlight. The baby wakes and cries out. The driver’s door creaks open. It has started to rain. I unbuckle my granddaughter. She reaches for her mother. I look up and see a man that I first met in 1973 when I worked a summer job for the Department of Highways.

“Hey, Tony, what are you doing here?” Then I get it. “Is that your truck? Oh, no.”

The police arrive, as well as the volunteer fire chief, who also plows snow for the village. A witness offered his phone number and Tony’s daughter came to take him home. “Dad, you could have hurt that baby. And where is your hearing aid?” she shouted.

Tony had just celebrated his 92nd birthday.

My granddaughter notices a big plastic pedal car in her friend’s front yard across the street from the crash. She points and squeaks, “Peas, mummy, peas.” She complained bitterly when we had to remove her from it once the police report was completed and the tow truck arrived.

Tony will lose his driver’s license. He lives on a small farm over by the golf course and will now need a ride to get to happy hour at the pub. That makes me sad. In fact, I’ve been sad all week. Google says it’s a typical reaction to trauma. I’ve tried not to think of the possible tragedy this near miss prevented.

My daughter is very practical. “Maybe we should have stopped to buy gas.”

2022 RCLAS Write On! Contest

Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions


While she toils away at her day job in cybersecurity, Cheryl maintains her equilibrium by keeping an eye on the birds outside her home office window. Excuses for procrastination in her writing pursuits include persuading her Corgi poo to become a SuperDog, watching her grandkids grow up too fast and perfecting her Neapolitan pizza recipe.

In addition to being a relative newcomer to the committed practice of the craft of writing, MarkLeBourdais is also a teacher, a parent, and a musician. He comes from a long line of writers, and has successfully avoided following in their footsteps for most of his life. Until now.

Karin Hedetniemi is a writer, poet, and street photographer from Victoria, BC. Her creative nonfiction is published/forthcoming in Prairie Fire, Island Writer, Hinterland, Lunch Ticket, and other literary journals. You can read her work at AGoldenHour.com.

2022 RCLAS Write On! Contest

Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions

Alline Cormier is a Canadian film analyst and retired court interpreter with a B.A. Translation from Université Laval. In her second career she turns the text analysis skills she acquired in university studying translation and literature to film. This year she has had over a dozen articles on women in film/TV published in various publications, including Women Making Films (India). She is a member of RCLAS and the FBCW and is currently seeking a publisher for her film guide for women.

Neil McKinnon's work has been published in magazines, newspapers and anthologies in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. His book, Tuckahoe Slidebottle (Thistledown Press, 2006), was short listed for both the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and the Howard O’Hagen Award for Short Fiction. His novel, The Greatest Lover of Last Tuesday, was also published by Thistledown. He has served on literary juries and has also edited and published academically.

Donna Terrill divides her time between New Westminster and the Slocan Valley in the West Kootenays and enjoys the literary scenes in both communities. She has been a long time member of RCLAS, Ren Writers, B.C. Federation of Writers and a regular attendee at Vancouver Writers’ Festival, Lit Fest New West and Elephant Mountain Literary Festival in Nelson. She is currently completing her first draft of a novel and keeps busy with cycling, kayaking, gardening and keeping track of (now) 14 grandchildren. This past summer she has indulged in a guilty pleasure and read all 9 Iona Whishaw mysteries, set in the West Kootenays.




Non-Fiction Second Place: Mark LeBourdais – Mr. Mumbles Passes the Test Non-Fiction Third Place: Karin Hedetniemi – Nudging Destiny

Non-Fiction Honourable Mentions

Alline Cormier More Regard for Dogs

Neil McKinnon – Slipsliding Away

Donna Terrill Homeward

First Place The Funeral by Cheryl Andrichuk

THE FUNERAL starts out quietly in a back yard full of birdsong, but it escalates quickly when the sweet songbirds are replaced by 'glossy black crows hunkering.' The clearly unwelcome creatures caw and mock and swoop and dive at the narrator relentlessly. But what can a person do? Neighbour Tom suggests murder (love the double entendre). “You should kill one and hang its body from the dogwood tree. I hear that’ll get rid of ‘em.”

This story is funny and had me laughing out loud as I followed the narrator's efforts to rid her yard of a tribe of unwelcome birds. The interjection of Tom the neighbour over the fence is a classic trope. Dialogue can often drive a story, and while it is sparse in this piece, it is timely and hilarious.

As the story arc steepens, short lines increase the pace, the climax is unexpected, and the denouement tender. As a reader, I was happy with the ending. I expected a more saccharine outcome narrator befriends crows, or narrator learns to live with crows, or storyline as an opportunity to show how intelligent crows are , etc. Instead the narrator's intention remains consistent throughout. What actually happens is a bewilderment and exactly the kind of event that inspires a good writer to write.

Second Place Mr. Mumbles Passes the Test by Mark LeBourdais

MR. MUMBLES PASSES THE TEST is a story of a boy in grade seven and a terrible teacher. We've all been there, in one grade or another, which makes this tale instantly relatable. The teacher, Mr. McDermott, is a 'bearded blustery tyrant' who quickly becomes a 'hairy, mouth breathing scumbucket.' The voice in this writing is wonderful, never wavering from that of a 12 year old boy. And funny! The teacher nicknamed the boy Mr Mumbles and he in turned nicknamed the teacher McDirtbag, and the two battled for an entire year.

But after all his rebellion throughout this story, and indeed right up to the climax, our young man betrayed himself at the ultimate moment. Or maybe he betrayed his classmates. Or maybe he betrayed the adult world into which he was growing in a way that would still be with him 46 years later. The emotions are raw in the close and it's left to the readers to sort them.

And this is what makes good creative non fiction. Connect with the reader in a way they can't shake I was carrying that kid around in my heart for days.

Third Place Nudging Destiny by Karin Hedetniemi

NUDGING DESTINY is both a travel story and a love story. Two people are visiting Vienna together and through deft characterization, the reader gets the feeling that limerence for this couple ended many years earlier. The narrator hopes for a rekindling, but for most of the trip finds herself disappointed.

"So that's the Danube, huh."

Husband Malcolm's remark at the river's edge sets the scene as the two walk through museums and up steep cobblestone pathways, one 'purposeless day' after another. Then one magical night they happen upon a dinner party in a small local restaurant and it changes everything. Now Malcom's eyes shimmer, and the two laugh and 'float on a lyrical evening of conviviality.' Malcolm is alive again, and so is their spark.

Chance encounters so often bring about transformations that careful planning and playbooks simply cannot. This is a sweet tale with a lovely ending and it's made even more enjoyable because it takes place in Vienna. The sights, the foods, the people and even the moon were a treat for this reader.

Write on! Contest Issues

Summer 2022 issue

Link: https://issuu.com/rclas/docs/june_summer_2022_ezine_issue_92

featuring Fiction winners

Marlett Ashley

Wren Handman

Janaya Fuller Evans

Dean Gessie Alvin Ens DK Eve

September 2022 issue

Link: https://issuu.com/rclas/docs/sept_2022_ezine_issue_93

featuring Poetry winners

Jessica Lee McMillan

Alan Girling

Susan McCaslin

Celeste Snowber

Dean Gessie Alvin Ens

The Columbia Witches © Alline Cormier

As Eva entered the one storey brick building surrounded in black awnings featuring the name La Brioche in gold lettering, a stone’s throw from the train tracks on Victoria Road, she spotted Catherine’s turquoise bicycle, chained outside the restaurant and café’s patio. A noisy freight train travelled east past the Revelstoke Railway Museum, between Mount Revelstoke National Park and Mount Mackenzie. The air was crisp, the poplars’ yellow leaves fluttered in the wind, and low lying clouds eclipsed many of the surrounding mountains’ fir trees. Eva found Catherine and Isabel seated on the cozy grey couches in the corner, already drinking from speckled orange mugs. Behind them jack o’ lanterns adorned both corner windowsills.

- Pumpkin lattes? Eva asked her best friends. Mine is a London Fog, answered Isabel.

After placing her order at the counter, decorated with a string of black and white paper skulls and an assortment of green, white, yellow, and orange gourds, Eva rejoined her costumed friends at their low wooden table. Appetizing aromas and Pictures of You, by The Cure, filled the popular restaurant. Fake cobwebs hung between overhead lamps, and pumpkins perched atop stub walls next to potted plants. The three friends had left work early Eva at the public library, Isabel at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives, and Catherine at the railway museum to have an early supper together before going to Catherine’s to watch a scary movie.

Elise, their pirate costumed waitress, brought their food to the table. Shortly afterwards a broad shouldered young man ambled over to them and said jeeringly, “The Columbia Witches… all eating veggie beet burgers. You know there are other things on the menu, right?” Receiving no answer from the frowning friends he poured his scorn directly on Isabel: What are you supposed to be your grandfather? Were you dropped on your head as an infant, David? Eva icily asked the man who had been a thorn in their sides since elementary school. She’s obviously Nels Nelsen.

Observing that David was on the verge of counterattacking, Eva held up her hand.

Save you breath to cool your porridge. Whatever, Pippi Longstocking, retorted David before storming away.

From the speakers, Hole’s Courtney Love belted out Violet Elise rushed to the friends’ table and asked, her voice betraying anxiety, “Everything okay?”

Oh yeah. It’s just Smith being Smith, replied Isabel. He’s not the cleverest goblin, Eva added. Too bad he never moved to Salmon Arm like he was supposed to. How about a candied apple to chase away the nastiness? suggested Elise. All Hallow’s Eve special for… notthe Columbia Witches.

The Monster Mash blared from the speakers. “Happy Halloween!” Elise wished the last diners, accompanying them to the door. Eva, Catherine, and Isabel, long time customers, were given the time to finish their candied apples while Elise swept the floor and turned chairs upside down on tables.

* * *

Well, WhatLiesBeneath or the bridge? Catherine asked her friends as she donned her Viking helmet, referring to the Robert Zemeckis directed film and the Revelstoke Suspension Bridge.

Let’s save the bridge for last, proposed Eva.

Isabel agreed enthusiastically, and they set off to begin the shivery night with a spooky movie. * * *

Eva’s grandmother’s harvest quilt lay across the three women’s laps under the shared bowl of popcorn they passed around on the threadbare mottled couch. Orange, white, and black bunting hung from the stair railing. Isabel let out a yelp of fear and jumped, spilling her cider, when Michelle Pfeiffer saw another woman’s reflection next to hers in her bath water—a ghostly apparition stood behind her as she pulled the plug to empty the bath. The friends found Eva’s hair raising Halloween pick thoroughly enjoyable; no gore, no slashing, and plenty of congenial moments between the female characters.

As Catherine and Eva laughed at Isabel’s jumpiness the front door flew open and Eva’s stepmother, Mary, entered the living room with Eva’s much younger half brother, Michael, dressed in a clown costume and holding the pillowcase he used to carry his Halloween candy.

I want to watch the movie with Eva! Michael demanded.

It’s your bedtime, and Eva is spending time with her friends this evening, stated Mary calmly. Michael pouted, but Mary held firm.

Upstairs, march, she added in a no nonsense tone that brooked no back talk.

Thank you! Eva mouthed, smiling at Mary, who steered her son toward the wood staircase.

That one won’t become an entitled brat, that’s for sure! remarked Isabel once Michael was out of earshot.

What time will you be home? Mary asked Eva.

Before midnight. We’re just going to the suspension bridge and back. Are you going to throw crow feathers in the river again? inquired Mary.

How do you know about that?

Do you really believe I get spared the ‘Columbia Witches’ gossip?

God people always have to make a big deal out of nothing!

Those feathers, Catherine explained to Mary, are just wishes we send down the Columbia to wash into the Pacific at Astoria.

I know, Cath, Mary acknowledged, crossing the living room and removing a crow feather from a brightly coloured woven basket She handed it to Eva. Drop this one in for me, she added. It’s my wish.

It was getting late and the only trick or treaters the friends met on their walk to the old bridge that crossed the Columbia River were a few of the small railway town’s older children. The frigid night air smelled of fir trees and winter, a scent that clung to it year round due to nearby glaciers. The town was nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains, like a baby in a cradle. But this cradle’s walls were mostly carpeted with trees, except for the bald spots left by the logging industry.

Did you remember to say goodnight to Bear? Catherine teased Isabel as they crossed Second Street.

Of course.

What’s this? asked Eva curiously.

* * *
* * *

Yesterday I discovered that Isabel talks to the stuffed grizzly cub at the museum.

That bear standing on its hind legs in the glass display case?

I don’t talk to it! Isabel protested. I just say goodbye on my way out. Salutations constitute talking, Catherine pointed out.

Fine, Isabel laughed, I talk to the bear. It’s hard not to acknowledge him; I walk past him so often he feels like a co worker.

The temperature had dropped since Eva entered the café and was now only a few degrees above zero. That morning when Catherine had crossed the bridge the Columbia River had been her favourite shade of emerald. Now it would be black but the waters would still be rushing, southward through British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, to their final destination: the Pacific Ocean.

Let’s stop at my place for a sec, suggested Isabel. I want to grab some paper cranes I made.

Though Catherine preferred to walk on and did not mind them catching up to her shortly Eva chose to wait for Isabel indoors to warm up and pet her tabby cat. While Isabel dashed to her room for the origami cranes she enjoyed tossing into the river from time to time and Eva scratched the purring cat’s neck Catherine pushed her bicycle past a weeping willow and some unprepossessing bungalows in the biting wind on Douglas Street. In the distance she heard a freight train, but on Douglas the only sound to disrupt the silence was the snapping of twigs as Catherine trod on them.

Suddenly, on her left, a hooded figure wearing a white mask with peanut shaped eye sockets, stretched vertically in a horrible, silent scream an imitation of Edvard Munch’s famous painting—ran at a terrified Catherine from between two houses brandishing a large knife above his head. She shrieked in horror. He was too close for her to jump on her bicycle and

peddle away. Desperate, she picked it up to use as a shield to protect herself. Eva and Isabel, detained by the latter’s roommate’s scrumptious pumpkin pie, were only just exiting Isabel’s house.

A bloodcurdling scream escaped Catherine’s assailant. He dropped the knife and stumbled as he tried to spin around. A ghostly figure was rushing at him from behind Catherine. Though she appeared no more substantial than fog she grabbed his wrists, paralyzing him.

Catherine’s bicycle fell to the pavement, and she sprinted down Douglas Street, screaming bloody murder, causing Adeline, the owner of Waves Café, to rush outside. She caught up to the terror stricken young woman before Eva and Isabel reached her.

He’s trying to kill me! She’s there! There! Catherine cried breathlessly, pointing frantically down Douglas Street Where? Where are they? asked Adeline, her eyes frantically searching the deserted street. There! Catherine repeated. But there was no one.

Eva and Isabel, flanking Catherine, got her into Waves Café, then Adeline slammed to door shut, locked it, and called 911. The three friends fell onto her cobalt blue sofa, between woolly cushions, where Eva and Isabel tried to make sense of Catherine’s harrowing account. To her frustration they repeated much of what she said, rephrasing her statements as questions.

The woman’s neck was slit? Her hands were cut up? She was young and Japanese? She was wearing a long, flowing dress, and her hair was tied up in a bun?

I know this all sounds crazy! Catherine exclaimed. But the man in the Ghostface mask was going to stab me and she bloody stopped him! How do you know the masked person was a man? asked Eva

He was six feet tall, and I heard him scream. No doubt about it it was a man.

Then Eva noticed that Isabel had paled terribly. What’s the matter?

Jennie Kiobara, Isabel uttered almost inaudibly as Adeline set down three piping hot chocolates before them on the wooden table littered with beeswax candles. What? said Eva.


Jennie Kiobara was 24 when she was murdered in her house on Douglas Street in 1905, Isabel said after clearing her throat. I learned about her at the museum. She was born in 1881 in Japan, abducted, and brought to Canada to be prostituted. She was exploited in one of the brothels on Front Street. One night in her home a brothel a man stabbed her dozens of times and slit her throat from ear to ear. She was practically beheaded. Her hands were cut up from trying to protect herself. At the time newspapers compared the crime to Jack the Ripper’s. A Chinese merchant who was also her pimp, Wah Chung, was a suspect. So was her Japanese husband and pimp, Fukushima. And two years before she was murdered a man named Alex Millet brutally assaulted her and was charged with assault causing bodily harm a man saved her that time. And there was a story that a white man confessed to her murder on his deathbed but her murder went unsolved.

In Revelstoke? Eva asked, her voice quavering. According to one of the museum’s exhibits, continued Isabel, in 1900, 50 different women were charged with working in or running a brothel.

As the police knocked loudly at the door of the tiny café the three friends exchanged anxious glances, wondering what they could possibly divulge without ending up in an asylum.

On November 1st, All Saints Day, among the poplars lining the east bank of the Columbia River, within shouting distance of the brothels that exploited women on Front Street at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, the police found a crumpled, elongated white mask evoking a scream but nothing more.

* * *
The Columbia Witches copyright Alline Cormier Revelstoke, BC. Photo by Alline Cormier

Hunger House

Gretchen looked at the door knocker again, sure she had seen it somewhere. It was shaped like a horseshoe but made with ornate twisting metal and wood that nearly obscured the original design. She was afraid to touch it.

“Go on, then!” Ian hissed, standing safely on the path. “You gonna do it, or what?”

She turned and glared at him. She should have been the one to dare him. She should've gotten to it first. But she was distracted by the surprising appearance of a trim little cottage tucked away in the darkest corner of their woods, like a secret.

The cottage looked like it was made of sweets. There was ribbon trim that seemed almost to be made of glass. Bright beads decorated the walls, and the swirls of white paint boarders looked like frosting. She was buying time with her thoughts, letting them carry her away from her task. But Ian wasn't convinced by her sudden interest in the scenery.

“Come on,” he whispered angrily. “Get a move on.”

Gretchen sighed and raised her fist. She tapped lightly on the wood door.

It swung softly inside the home, into a tiny kitchen.

She had planned to run after knocking, but the open door worried her. There was clearly a fire in the fireplace, though it was a warm afternoon. She and Ian had seen the smoke curling from the chimney a mile away. It was what drew them.

“Hello?” she said loudly, uncomfortable with the sound of her voice, an intruder before she even stepped inside.

There was a mumbling, fumbling sort of murmur in response. The meaning was impossible to make out.

“Hello?” she said again. She felt foolish. She couldn't even manage a break in with any authority.

She stepped inside, noting the clean counters and floor. The kitchen led right into a comfortable little den, with a fireplace snapping hot.

She saw a woman hunkered down in a blanket, her curved back resting against a rocking chair that creak creak creaked against the floor. She shifted back and the blanket fell away, revealing an old, emaciated face and shoulder. She was naked beneath the blanket.

“So sorry, we didn’t know anyone was here,” Gretchen said, stepping back. Hadn’t thought about it much either, she thought, cursing herself. Of course, someone was home.

Why they’d come in the first place perturbed her. She thought on it. The house had looked so inviting and so strange, like a mirage. She had felt drawn to it. It wasn’t like coming home, but there was a comfort and a lure to the little cottage.

The woman smiled at her and mumbled again. It was not a nice smile. The door slammed shut.

Ian shoved past Gretchen, putting himself protectively in front of her, even though he was a year younger. “We’ll be going, then,” he said. “Sorry for disturbing you.”

Gretchen turned and tried to open the door, but there was no handle on the inside, just smooth wood. She pushed at it, but it wouldn’t budge. “What… why isn’t there…” Ian started to say just as the woman tossed away her blanket and lunged at him. She was very fast, almost birdlike. She grabbed hold of Ian and opened her jaw wide, and wider still. They could hear the bones detaching.

She swallowed him whole. He screamed all the way down her throat, which had extended and stretched out to an impossible length.

Gretchen yelled and banged on the door, scratching at the wood with her nails in a desperate attempt to get out. She couldn’t stop yelling. The woman behind her just mumbled and shuffled slowly back to her chair. She gathered the blanket around her.

Gretchen couldn’t get out, no matter how hard she tried. She slid down the door and onto the floor in an exhausted heap. Ian was gone. She was alone with the monster who ate him.

Eventually, she rose up and looked around the kitchen. There was a plate of sandwiches sitting on the counter. Gretchen had not eaten that day and even though she was repulsed and bereft over the loss of her friend, she was starving. She moved towards them.

“Eat,” croaked the woman. Gretchen looked over at her. She was younger now, and supple, much plumper than she’d been before. Her cheeks were ruddy and her eyes twinkled. “Eat,” she repeated.

Gretchen shook her head and backed away from the sandwiches. The woman looked peeved. “Drink,” the woman ordered, her voice stronger now. A pitcher of lemonade sat on the counter near Gretchen. Again, she shook her head. “Then sleep,” the woman said, and Gretchen crumpled to the floor.

When she awoke the door was still closed. Gretchen banged on the door again, trying to get someone’s attention, but no one came. She got up and circled the house, looking for ways out. There were no windows. She looked in the woman’s bedroom. There was an ornate carved oak bed. In it, the woman slept, looking much younger and peaceful. Beside her was a bedside table with a water basin, but nothing else in the room, not even clothing.

There was a small washroom but no bath. Again, Gretchen was confused. She wondered how the woman cleaned herself every day. The cottage had a pleasant scent, like pressed violets. Nothing that would indicate the woman was dirty.

There was nothing else the kitchen, the small room with a chair and fireplace, the bedroom and the washroom. No closets. No belongings. Gretchen could not figure out the life this woman led.

As she looked around, the woman rose and came into the den. She sat down in her rocking chair, her blanket cocooning her. She stared at

Gretchen, who had stepped back into the kitchen.

“What are you going to do to me?” she asked the woman.

“Eat,” the woman said. She gestured to a basket of berries, but Gretchen refused.

“Why don’t you just let me go?” Gretchen asked.

“Eat,” the woman said again, smiling. Her teeth were sharp and her mouth was red.

“You need help around the place,” Gretchen said. “I could help you.”

The woman looked at her and nodded. She didn’t say anything else, just sat in her chair and rocked while watching Gretchen, until she dozed off.

Gretchen looked under the kitchen sink and found cleaning supplies. She got started on the house.

She scrubbed every inch of it again and again for a week. At night she would fall asleep beside the fire like a pet. The first night, she heard something scurrying around her head. She sat up and saw a mouse holding a flower filled with dew. The mouse gestured with it towards her, and she accepted the gift. She drank it and the mouse scampered away, coming back again with another blossom.

She was able to quench her thirst at night in this way, though her hunger overwhelmed her, and she nearly ate what the woman offered her.

Finally, on the seventh day, the woman left the house. She was much stronger and healthier now. With a loud thumping and a whoosh, the woman flew up the chimney just over the fire. She was wearing a long

cloak, which Gretchen realized had previously been her blanket. She seemed perfectly fine, despite the flames.

While the woman was out, Gretchen realized there was nothing left to clean except the fireplace. So she doused the fire and began to scrub the hearthstones.

After an hour or so, she heard a dreadful banging at the door. It was the woman. “The fire, the fire, light the fire,” she cried.

Gretchen realized the woman could not enter the cottage without the magical fire. The doorway was only meant for humans and would not welcome her.

She stayed quiet and hid beside the fireplace until the woman finally went away again. She came back that night – Gretchen could hear her on the roof but the next morning all was quiet and Gretchen was alone.

She built a small fire and looked up at the chimney. If the woman could get out that way, maybe she could as well.

Over the week, with all her work, Gretchen had become quite skinny. She easily fit in the flume and was able to pull herself up on the rocks inside. She hauled herself up the chimney and onto the roof. Then she climbed down and headed home.

When she reached her house she flung the door open. Sitting beside her father was the woman from the cottage, though she was young and pretty now. Her father glowered.

“And where have you been, you little runaway?” he demanded. “What right have you, coming back here?”

Her father was a gentle and kind person. He would never talk to a stranger this way, let alone his daughter. The woman’s eyes glittered as she watched Gretchen.

Gretchen didn’t know what to do. “Get out!” her father yelled, and she ran.

She ran all the way back to the cottage. She clambered onto the roof. She slid down the chimney and flew across the floor, weeping. The fire did not harm her.

She went to the kitchen and ate everything the woman tried to tempt her with in the past. Sandwiches, berries, cookies, pie, salad and roast beef. Everything in the pantry and the refrigerator. She drank all the lemonade and all the elderberry wine and all the water she could pump from the tap. She should have been full but the more she ate, the emptier she felt. Her body became weak and thin. Her legs could barely hold her.

She shuffled over to the chair beside the fire. She sat down, and she waited.


Earlier this month, as the ground began to frost over, humans far more than I had ever experienced swarmed into my garden. Initially with timidity, and later with temerity, they knocked on me. Small uncertain hands, curious knuckle taps, confident fist raps.

The knocking led to lifts and shakes, twists and comments about perfect shape, colour and size, and abnormalities to the contrary. I wanted to shout at them to take care, that they were bending my greenery and might snap my life support.

Then, I realized that I wasn’t the only one being accosted. Others seemed to be receiving similar treatment. Eventually, discussions of perfect shape, colour and size were replaced with shouts of glee, especially from younger humans. Eventually quiet once again settled on my garden. As the sun began to lower leaving the late afternoon chill, I felt alone, without understanding why.

“Look at this one, Daddy,” a small voice said, casting a shadow over me, a small hand stroking my side. “It’s not orange at all and it’s only round on one side.”

“You’re right, Sweetheart,” the daddy replied. “Just imagine how the candlelight will glow through its white shell, and it will sit neatly on the railing with its back against a post. What do you think?”

“I think it’s perfect, Daddy, ” the sweetheart said. “Can we call him Spook?”

A moment later, my life support snapped. I thought I’d die on the spot. Strangely, I did not.

The sweetheart wrapped her small appendages around me and carried me off, to where I couldn’t image. All I had ever known was my garden, and even that had only been since the warmth of the sun had nurtured my small essence from the luscious soil that had been my home. The only significant movement that I’d ever felt was myself growing.

Now, I was being transported. Oddly, I wasn’t concerned. I felt snug within the warm appendages. I felt . . . wanted. When the motion stopped, I was set on something hard and smooth, almost cool. Wherever I was, I felt the

sun rise and lower, but I received no nourishment. Periodically, I was greeted with “good morning, Spook” or “good night, Spook”. On those occasions, the small hands stroked me.

Then came a time I shall never forget. The sun was still low in the sky when the small human approached. “Can we carve him now, Daddy?”

“You bet!” the daddy replied. “Do you have the special knife, the large spoon and a marker?”

“Yes,” the sweetheart replied, making a clattering of noise.

“Ok, let’s spread some newspaper under Spook,” the daddy said. “This will be messy.”

Something sharp pierced my skin, pushing and pulling. Pop! The last of my life support lifted away, allowing bright light to penetrate my very being. A strange sensation engulfed me as small hands those same small hands that had stroked me with affection for many days ripped my vital fabric from inside of me. They yanked at my personal web of life support taking with it any possibility for my rebirth. Another instrument, scraping at my insides, ensuring that nothing of my vital fabric remained.

“Put the meat and seeds on the tray,” the daddy said. “We’ll sort it later. Mommy said she’d make pumpkin pie.”

“And, we’ll roast the seeds, right?”

My face tickled as short, squeaking strokes brushed across my round side. I was beginning to think it a pleasant experience when without warning the stabbing and jabbing began again. These strokes were different. When each set of jerks ceased, another, smaller part of me popped away. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening. One moment, I had only my imagination and my senses to explain my existence. In the next moment, I saw a striking countenance gazing upon me. It seemed to replace the very sun itself. Thatmustbethesweetheart, I thought.

“Do you think Spook can see me now?” the sweetheart said, the sound coming from the countenance.

“Uh, huh,” the daddy said. He was bigger than the sweetheart. “Smile or frown?”

“Smile, please. He’s too beautiful for a frown. And don’t forget a nose.”

More sawing and poking. As pieces of my shell popped away, I felt lighter, airier. I wondered how I was to sustain my existence without my vital parts, but somehow, I had a confidence that these humans were kind, that they cared for me. I trusted them.

“Give him a wipe,” the daddy said, handing something to the sweetheart. “Here’s the candle,” the daddy said, when the sweetheart’s wiping ceased.

Something nestled in my vacant orb. I heard a sizzle and pop and felt an inner warmth I’d never known.

“Oh, Daddy,” the sweetheart said. “Look how the light glows through his skin!”

“Yes, Sweetheart, Spook is lovely. Maybe the best we’ve ever made,” the daddy said. “Let’s put Spook out on the railing.” With a sizzle and whoosh, my inner glow was gone. “We’ll light the candle later, when it gets dark.”

Soon, I was nestled on the veranda railing with my back against a post. It was chilly and the sun didn’t shine on me as it had, but now I could see. I saw humans, large and small travelling before me. I saw trees with leaves of many colours and flowers in their last full bloom. Small creatures walked with their humans, often taking time to water the trees. Other, more stealth like creatures, dug under the bushes and flowers, aerating the soil around them and leaving nourishment behind. With each lowering of the sun’s light, the daddy and the sweetheart returned, and my inner glow burned within

One the third such occasion, soon after the inner glow began to warm me, small, oddly garbed humans began appearing in our garden. They staggered toward the mouth of our dwelling, each commenting on the remarkable white pumpkin with the translucent skin. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized they were commenting about me. Somehow, I had been transformed from a misshaped, oddly coloured gourd into something of note. The sweetheart’s care had transformed me.

When these miniature humans shouted, “trick or treat” or “Halloween apples”, the light would beam through our dwelling’s mouth and the Daddy and the Sweetheart would greet them, dropping treats into their containers It felt such a gay occasion. I hoped it would never end.

As darkness settled around us, the tiny humans disappeared, as did my inner flame. Quiet, but for the chirp of small night creatures, encircled me. I felt . . . content, perhaps even happy. I couldn’t imagine a better life. If I was able, I would have sighed.

Off in the distance, one of the watering creatures barked. It sounded angry, threatening. Shouting, fast moving humans, laughing. I tried to process what this meant, as the noise grew closer.

“Here’s one!” a dark figure said. “Look, it’s all white. Never seen a white one before.”

“I doubt colour makes any difference,” another said. “They’re all the same in the end.”

“Let’s see,” the first one said.

And, just like that, he snatched me up in his rough hands and stepped away from our dwelling. Then he turned, and I was momentarily airborne, travelling speedily on my own for the first time in my life. A sickening thud broke my revery as I felt the remains of my unusually white self splatter against the side of our dwelling. Pieces of me slid down the side and puddled on the veranda. Whatwastobecomeofmenow?

“Yup,” the second figure said. “Colour doesn’t matter. They’re all the same.”

Spook copyright Jerena Tobiasen


RCLAS presents Tellers of Short Tales –

Edition Featuring Special Guest Gina Armstrong of "Haunted History BC"

Date: Thurs Oct 27. 2022 Time: 6:00 to 8:00pm Pacific Time

Zoom room will open early for open mic sign up starting at 05:50 PM Pacific Time

Let us know on the Facebook event page if you would like to attend.

OR you can RSVP by email to secretary@rclas.com

Open Mic for spooky short

The evening
include an
stories and poems. FREE ONLINE ZOOM EVENT. Everyone Welcome. Award winning authors, and historians Gina Armstrong and Victoria Vancek sharing BC heritage, hauntings, legends & folklore while preserving Canada’s history. Website: www.hauntedhistorybc.com Instagram haunted_history_bc

Poetic Justice Online Edition with Host Carol Johnson

Date: Sunday November 13, 2022 Time: 3:00 to 5:00 pm (Pacific Time)

Featuring Trevor Carolan

Robert Martens

Open Mic sign up starts at 2:50 pm

Find more info on Poetic Justice Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/poeticjusticepnw

To receive zoom link Contact Carol Johnson caroljohnson@rclas.com or email secretary@rclas.com

Feature Bios:

Trevor Carolan has published twenty books of poetry, non-fiction, translation, fiction and anthologies. He has also produced documentary films and held senior arts positions with the Olympic Games and Banff Centre. Co-editor of the award-winning edition Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World (University of Hawaii Press, 2013) and a former elected Councillor in North Vancouver, he holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and has advocated on behalf of conservation issues and Indigenous land claims in B.C. Find out more at: www.trevorcarolan.com

Robert Martens is the author of several books of poetry, the most recent being Finding Home with Silver Bow Publications. He lives in Abbotsford, where he enjoys a life as editor and historian, but above all as poet.

RCLAS presents Tellers of Short Tales –Online Edition

Feature Author Trevor Carolan

Date: Thurs Nov 24, 2022 Time: 6:00 to 8:00pm

Zoom room will open early for open mic sign up starting at 05:50 PM Pacific Time

Let us know on the Facebook event page if you would like to attend.

OR you can RSVP by email to secretary@rclas.com

The evening will include an Open Mic for short stories. Space is limited.


Renowned author Trevor Carolan will share lively stories about The Literary Storefront ~ Canada’s first non profit literary centre located in Vancouver’s colourful Gastown district from 1978 85.

Hope you can join our chat and learn more about a pivotal time in west coast history!

Founded by poet Mona Fertig and inspired by Shakespeare and Company in Paris, The Literary Storefront was Canada’s first non profit literary centre and flourished in Vancouver’s colourful Gastown district from 1978 85. A pivotal time in west coast history when feminist, nationalist, and multicultural passions surged to redefine what a socially committed literary community could be, The Storefront housed the regional offices of The Writers' Union of Canada, The League of Canadian Poets, an editing & printing company, and was the birthplace of the Federation of B.C. Writers. Carolan’s history recounts the inspiration, origins, achievements and tribulations of this seminal and legendary B.C. literary institution. The book includes interviews with many important authors and survivors from among the Storefront Society's 500 members.

9th Annual Fred Cogswell Award For Excellence in Poetry

Winner’s Announcement

Sunday Afternoon Dec 4, 2022 ZOOM EVENT

Watch for my details coming soon. Our Longlist of 10 Books to be announced on (or before) November 20, 2022

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