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9th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2021 Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions


9th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2021 First Place Winner Non-Fiction Authors’ Note: Dear Readers: “I was co-producing a show in Vancouver with Byron Chief-Moon. During a coffee break with the crew, I happened to sit next to one of the participants; her name was Angela. She started to tell me how, a few years back, she came to Vancouver to look for her lost twin brother. I was fascinated by the compelling way she told of her experience, and when we had wrapped for the day I asked her to finish her narrative. It remained with me until submission time came around for an RCLAS story, that’s when her story became “Angela’s Diary.” Fortunately, I am blessed with a retentive sense memory, and I was able to recall almost every detail of her story, and the way she told it. Angela had a way of telling her story so vividly it became deeply embedded in my mind. That was a few years ago, and I don’t know what happened to Angela. But I hope her story will live on. “ Alex Hamilton-Brown

ANGELA’S DIARY © Alex Hamilton-Brown

My brother Tom went to Vancouver to look for work. He wrote to me every week. But when his letters stopped coming I got worried. Tom and I are twins, and we’ve always been close. As the days passed, something kept nagging at me that he was in trouble. That’s when I decided to go look for him. DAY ONE I left Chuchuwayha Reservation at twelve o’clock and caught the bus at the Crowsnest Depot in Princeton. A guy on the bus told me about a cheap hotel in downtown Vancouver near the bus station. It turned out to be an old beat-up brownstone building. I got a room on the ground floor for twenty-five dollars a night.


As soon as I opened the door to my room I was hit with the smell of stale tobacco smoke and booze. The tattered carpet had oil and grease stains, and the bed had bedbugs. I found a half-bottle of whiskey in a cupboard under the sink. I sprinkled the contents in a circle on the mattress to protect me from the bugs. It smelled like a pub, but the cooties left me alone. DAY 2 The old man at reception was bombed. I asked him where I could eat. “At the Friendship Centre up the street,” he mumbled. A wonderful smell of baking wafted past me as I opened the front door to the Centre “They’re making bannocks and scrambled eggs for breakfast,” the woman at reception said. “Where are you from?” “The Chuchuwayha rez, in Princeton,” I said. I had bannocks with butter and honey and sat next to a woman who was about my age. She had an eagle tattoo on her forearm. “I’ve got a tattoo on my arm as well,” I said, and rolled up my sleeve to show her my red-hawk tattoo. “I’ve seen that before,” she said. “A guy about your age was in here a couple of days ago. He had a red-hawk tattoo in the same place.” I showed her a photo of Tom. “Yes,” she said, “that’s the guy I saw; said his name was Tom.” My heart missed a beat. “He’s my twin brother,” I said. “I’m here to find him?” “Like me, he was on the lookout for a fix,” the woman said. “Tom was never on drugs,” I replied. “Well he is now,” she said.


I asked her where he might hang out. She told me around Pender and Abbott Street and offered to take me there. She said she was skinned and asked if I could lend her five dollars. I gave her the money and we left. At Pender Street, she said she needed a pee and disappeared into a Chinese restaurant. I waited, but she never came back. I didn’t care, because I wanted to look for Tom. I entered a narrow alleyway that had row after row of old black telephone poles. They looked like dead trees with sneakers dangling from their wire branches. Behind one of the green dumpsters, a man was drawing a big blue eye on a wall. He looked at me, leered, and started fumbling to unzip his pants. I bolted as fast I could and found myself on Hastings Street. A crowd was surrounding the flashing lights of a police car. Somebody had been run over. I prayed it was not Tom. A young man was being lifted into an ambulance. The poor soul’s long blond hair was smeared with blood. I remember looking around and thinking: I’d never seen so many hard-luck cases in my life. For the rest of the day, I walked up and down Hastings Street looking for Tom. When it started to get dark, I gave up and went back to the hotel. DAY THREE In the morning I spoke to a hooker who had a room on the second floor. She said to try Blood Alley. “Blood Alley,” I said. “Is that the name of a real street?” “Oh, it’s real enough,” she said. “It’s in Gastown. It’s a favourite place for tourists. That’s where users go to panhandle.” Blood Alley had a cobble-stone sidewalk with old-fashioned street lights. There were no panhandlers, but when I walked past a vacant store I saw a couple shooting up in the empty doorway. I spent the rest of the day walking the streets around Gastown. Face after face passed me by, but no Tom. I was beginning to think I might never find him.


A small church on Water Street had a sign offering free meals. I thought Tom Inside, dozens of people were being given paper plates with chicken curry and rice. A lady handed me a plate of the food. It smelled real spicy, but it was not half bad. I showed the photo of Tom to a lady in charge. She hadn’t seen him but said I should try The Mission on Hasting Street East. She warned me Hastings East was no place for me to be walking alone, especially with night coming on; so I returned to the hotel.

DAY FOUR The Mission was like the Friendship Centre where young native men and women gathered to pass the time. At a communal table, when I was showing the photo of Tom, a young fellow said he was sure that was the guy he had played pool with the night before. He added, it was at the Victoria Hotel, just up the street. That was good enough for me, and I headed straight for the Victoria. The hotel pub with pool tables didn’t open for another hour; so I walked around to the back of the building. My heart nearly stopped beating. There was Tom. I couldn’t move. This was not the Tom I knew. He was behaving the same as the addicts I’d seen downtown. He must have just given himself a hit. His movements were slow and jerky. It looked like some bad spirit was playing games with him. Bending forward, he pointed his finger as if he was following the trail of some insect. Then he went into a kind of slow-motion kick-boxer routine. I don’t know much about drugs but I knew he was on something real bad. I couldn’t take it anymore. “Tom!” I shouted. “It’s me, Angela.” He froze. Then, twisting his head, he looked at me like he was seeing through a mist. I ran to him, but he backed off.


“Is...is that you, sis?” he said, reaching to touch my outstretched hand. He grabbed it and held it to his chest. I started bubbling and threw my arms around him. We went into the pub which had just opened. In the lobby I telephoned Mom. She was so happy to hear I’d found Tom. Chief Harold came on to the line. When he heard what had happened to Tom, he said he knew the problem and would help the Indian way. He said to catch the one o’clock bus home. On the bus, Tom slept all the way to Hope. But when he woke up he became nervous and jumpy. He began breathing quickly, then stood up and marched down the aisle shouting -”let me off, I wanna get off.” The driver slowed down and started to pull over onto the shoulder of the road. “It’s okay,” a woman said, who was sitting near the driver. “Just keep going. I’ll take care of him.” The woman told me she was a registered nurse. She got Tom to sit on a front seat and gave him drinks of bottled water, telling him he would feel better soon. When we pulled into the Princeton bus depot, I thanked her and she disappeared without telling me her name. Mom, Chief Harold and two of Tom’s buddies were there to meet us. Over coffee, the Chief said he and the boys would take Tom to the Sweat Lodge by the Similkameen River. At the Sweat Lodge, Tom was put through weeks of intense body and spirit healing. I’ve tried The Sweat. I couldn’t take that heat for more than fifteen minutes before I felt like I was melting. When Tom got back home he looked strong and clear-eyed. The first thing he said to me, was, “Hey sis, do you fancy fly fishing for trout on the Tulameen?” I knew then, he was back to his old self again.

Thinking back to Vancouver’s East Side, I remember it as a hell of torment and sadness. But when Tom and I go fishing on the east side of the Tulameen I think of it as being pretty close to heaven. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Alex Hamilton-Brown


9th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2021 Second Place Winner Non-Fiction

BRIDGES: MEMORIES OF DAD © Evelyn Schofield

Dad would have liked Portugal. When I travelled there in the summer after my retirement, I discovered some of its many bridges: the Vasco da Gama spanning the wide Tagus estuary, the Dom Luis I, one of several traversing the Douro. Dad would have appreciated the need to get to the other side. As a civil engineer, he took a keen interest in bridges. I remember once finding in my parents’ closet a shoebox full of black and white snapshots of the first bridge he designed, each strut and beam photographed meticulously.

Those photos are long gone, as are most things from my childhood. For that, I blame my mother’s purges. She did excel at starting over, most notably when my father suffered a fatal stroke, leaving her to reinvent herself in her sixties. Now I myself, weighed down by decades, understand how she felt: make a bonfire of the past and rediscover the lightness of youth.

I went to Portugal to make a fresh start, but found myself photographing bridges. How foolish of me to think I was travelling alone.

҉ “Are you sure you know how to make pancakes, Daddy?” It’s Saturday morning and I’ve just come down to the kitchen to discover Dad making breakfast. Mommy must be sleeping in.


“Don’t worry – I know pancakes are your favourite and mine are almost as good as your mother’s.”

And they are. I eat at least six, with lots of butter and Aunt Jemima syrup.

҉ It’s the end of October and this will likely be the last visit of the season to our cottage in the Gatineau. We are driving along the final stretch of gravel road and Dad is steering skillfully between potholes and rocks. I’m daydreaming about summer days spent learning to swim in the lake and summer nights spent gazing at the millions of stars in the Milky Way.

The summer has not just been about swimming and stargazing, though, as we have also been busy building the cottage, which is still unfinished. My Dad is an engineer who builds airport terminals and airplane hangars, but I can tell that building our 3-bedroom cottage on Battle Lake is his favourite project ever. My teenaged brothers give him a hand with the heavy jobs, while my sister and I help Mom with less strenuous tasks. We have spent many hours nailing down sheets of thin plywood on top of the floorboards. Next spring Dad is going to lay down black and white linoleum tiles and we need to make sure the plywood stays firm and flat.

On Sunday, before we head home, I help Dad tie a tarp over the chimney to keep the snow out for the winter. I am only ten years old and not yet afraid of heights. I move carefully, but confidently, on the roof, enjoying the bird’s-eye view of the woods around us.

“Can you give me a hand here, Evvy?” Dad asks.


We bend over the chimney, and I hold the rope down with my thumb while he ties a knot. We don`t even notice my brother taking a snapshot of us from the deck below.

҉ I am sprawled out in a patch of sunshine on the living room carpet, watching Dad open a record binder and carefully stack the heavy 78’s on the player in the radio cabinet. The first disk drops to play and the turntable wobbles for a second from the weight. Sounds of timpani and French horns emanate from the single speaker.

“What is this, Dad?” I ask, sliding over so I can pick up the binder to look at the artwork on the cover.

“Sibelius. His fifth symphony,” comes the reply as he settles into his favourite armchair to read the Sunday paper.

One day, not long after, my ‘electronics wizard’ oldest brother will take apart the circuitry of the record player, convinced that he can improve the sound. Vacuum tubes of various sizes, bits of wire, and striped resistors will lie spread out for months on his work table. The record player will never be put back together again.

Dad’s reproaches and exhortations will fall on deaf ears and eventually he will give up and buy a new stereo HiFi. The Sunday afternoon concerts will resume, with some modern LP’s added to the collection.


҉ My teenage dawdling keeps Dad waiting in the Chevy Corvair in the driveway. As usual, he is going to give me a ride to school on his way to work. He’s going to be late again today.

I avoid looking at him as I slide into the passenger seat, but I can tell he is looking at me. I hear his soft sigh of reproach as he puts the car in reverse to back out of the driveway. The silence between us signals a truce. When we turn onto Bank Street, the radio is playing Yellow Submarine and Dad joins in the chorus, his baritone just as mellow as Ringo’s.

҉ Dad loves classical music and I believe he has always regretted that he never learned to play an instrument. But my grandfather did not think that music lessons were a suitable pastime for a young man, and so it was my aunt who got to study the piano. But my parents are both keen that I should learn to play an instrument. Every Sunday afternoon, Dad drives me to Mrs. Clarke’s house for my piano lesson and waits for an hour in the car to drive me home again.

I have grown out of the conservatory books and am now learning pieces from the Romantic repertoire, which appeals to my adolescent yearning for excitement and passion. I have recently mastered a Brahms rhapsody, which I play with the unbridled gusto of a 15-year old. I have a recording of the same piece played by a virtuoso pianist, and I often listen to it.

One day after practising the rhapsody, I overhear Dad in the kitchen talking to my mother. “I think I like the way Evvy plays that piece better than the recording.”

This is better than winning first prize in the Ottawa Music Festival.


҉ “Look what I found on the front porch this morning.”

I glance over to see Dad holding out a small sheet of blue paper. Looking more closely, I notice an intricate pattern drawn there in silver ink.

“I think it must be for you...a billet-doux,” he smiles.

A love letter? I blush as I take the drawing from his hand and immediately retreat to my room to study it. I know it must be from Paul, a boy in my high school class. I am surprised, but pleased, that Dad apparently knows this too.

҉

It’s Reading Week, and I am home for my first visit since starting at U of T. This afternoon I am lounging on the couch, reading Candide by Voltaire for my French literature course. Dad is sitting across the room, reading the newspaper. My French is pretty good and I am enjoying the book’s sarcastic witticisms about the young man who believed he was living ‘in the best of all possible worlds’. At one point I laugh out loud at something in the text. Dad looks up from his paper, but says nothing.

A few minutes later, I head to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. When I return, Dad is standing by the couch looking at the page where I had left the book open. He doesn’t speak much French himself, but recently he has started taking French classes at work, as part of the federal government’s new push toward bilingualism and biculturalism. He is enjoying this diversion from his regular duties at the Department of Transport, but isn’t finding it easy to learn a new language at the age of 60.


He looks up at me with a mixture of pride and envy in his expression. “Très bien, ma fille.” he manages to say with a sheepish grin.

҉ There’s a square of blue construction paper in my box of mementos. Once in a long while I take it out to look at the mandala painstakingly outlined there in silver ink. The drawing is a bit crooked and there are a couple of accidental splotches here and there, but I have treasured it for over fifty years. It brings back memories of a wonderful boy and the intense emotions of my first love. And it also reminds me of my father, and the tenderness with which he gave me this small slip of paper on that morning long ago.

One year later, both these people were gone from my life: Dad had died suddenly of a stroke and Paul had moved away and found a new love. And so, I also treasure the mandala because it reminds me that the world turns in circles and nothing is ever truly lost. The bridges to our past will always remain – we just need to remember how to find them.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Evelyn Schofield


9th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2021 Third Place Winner Non-Fiction THE BIG RED BUS © Jude Goodwin

You're either on the bus, or off the bus.

The baby is crying. I sit up disoriented in the dark. It's so cold. The baby's cries escalate and bounce around the metal hull of our bus. I climb across the low bed to get to the nest of blankets I've fashioned in one of the underbed storage drawers. It's turned out to be a pretty good bassinet. Yesterday I hauled the drawer out of the bus and placed it under a tree by the Ashnola River. The lovely Ashnola, where the baby kicked her legs and waved her arms and a summer sun dappled through riverside aspen. Where I squatted in pools with my toddler splashing cold clean water onto her bottom and her squeals ribboned up and over the campsite.

We are on the road travelling with my boyfriend's band - they in their vans and cars, myself and Duncan and our two daughters in a converted school bus. "I'll camperize it for us," Duncan had said when he brought the ramshackle bus home. "Soon," he insisted whenever I asked. Time came when we had to leave our rented home, so we set out in the bus as-is, two-year-old Sky sitting up front and shouting, "Come on Dunc! Drive this bus!"

Tonight I wrap the newborn in a crocheted blanket and walk her to the rough front of the bus. She wants to nurse. We sit in the big driver's chair and as she suckles I look out the front windows at the night. There's a full moon lighting up the rocks along the edges of the wide Ashnola. Lighting up the steep granite of the mountainsides. The sky is a dome of stars. The baby fusses. She always fusses,


never seems to get enough milk. I take her outside so we can stand under that dome. The Milky Way is silent but the roar of the river fills the air. An animal shrieks from a darkness by the trees. I shiver. I love this wild place, these wild moments but summer is coming to an end. I look down at my baby and she's wide awake, looking up at me. I can see the reflection of stars in her pupils.

When we return to the bus I hear Sky crying. She needs her bottle. She's standing at the baby gate we've nailed across the opening to the old bathroom. We had removed the broken toilet, covered the hole with wood and plopped down a big square of foamie. "She'll be fine there," Duncan had insisted. Climbing up the stairs, I call out. "Duncan, wake up. Duncan." He's dead asleep - his band had played until one am and then they needed to pack up their equipment. "Duncan!"

"Huh? What - " "It's cold. The kids are cold." I put the baby back in her nest and pick up my toddler. I've got a bottle prepared for her in the metal cooler that is our refrigerator. She doesn't need it warmed anymore and that's a relief. Her diaper is wet and her legs are freezing. "Duncan. Can you get the heater working?"

"Ok. ok - " There's movement in the dark as Duncan lights one of our oil lamps and starts to fiddle with the heater. The lamplight illuminates a tapestry of black bears and forest that hangs above our bed. I tend to Sky's diaper then hand her a bottle. I put her back down and grab a bunch of our clothes and pile them over her to keep her snug. The heater is at the head of our bed and Duncan makes big kodiak shadows as he leans in. Finally a welcome globe of heat forms around him then starts to expand. It reaches the newborn's drawer; it reaches the toddler's den. Heat turns our metal container into a home.

Two sleeping babies, a cozy lamp, and that bloom of warmth. It doesn't travel much past the bedroom area, but it's enough. I go outside again and pee under the stars. But climbing back into the bus I smell gas. "Duncan! Why do I smell gas?"


Duncan has fallen back to sleep. I crawl over the bed and look at the heater. It's working, but the gas smell is really strong. I shake him. "Duncan. Something's wrong." He lifts a bleary head and looks around.

"What?" "Gas. Can't you smell it?"

Duncan pushes himself up and leans over the heater, his red hair falling across his face. He runs long musician fingers down the length of the metal tube which connects to a propane tank outside.

"There must be a leak," he says. "We have to turn the tank off," I reply and start to rise. "No wait. I know what to do."

Duncan finds his matches. "What? That's crazy! You can't light those - " "It's ok, this will work." "Wait - " I scramble froglike across the bed and reach for the baby. Wrapping her again in her blankets I take her towards the front of the bus. I look down at Sky as I pass. She's asleep again, the glass bottle resting on her hand, its nipple half in half out of her open mouth. As we move by, she rouses slightly, takes another two sucks, then drops back into slumber. I don't think I can pick both of them up. I mentally note there's a wall between her and the heater. I keep moving into the front of the bus shielding the baby with my arms. Over her fuzzy head I watch her father scrape a match into fire. He holds it to the tubing.


A tiny blue flame appears. He lights another match and drags it like an artist, painting a string of tiny blue flames.

"There," he says, satisfied. "That will get rid of the smell. Tomorrow we'll buy some new tubing on our way through town. But this is good for tonight."

Duncan flops back onto his pillow and is snoring almost instantly. The baby wants to nurse again so we sit on the wood bench up front and I watch my boyfriend sleep. I watch the patterns of light on our walls as the oil lamp flickers. I watch the little blue flames dancing along the metal tube.

I'm 22 years old. We've been on the big red bus all summer. Duncan likes to say we are volunteer peasants. We are counter-culture. We read books like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The Teachings of Don Juan. Spiritual Midwifery. We shop at food co-ops and natural food stores. We buy only used clothing. We talk endlessly about living away from the city. We are radicals. We are antiestablishment. It is 1975.

The baby is always hungry and she cries a lot. I like to think of her as fiery but in my deepest heart I worry she isn't getting enough from my milk. We have been vegetarian for years but the bus has no kitchen. We eat mostly fruit and salads and I think I need more protein. And the baby is so tiny. Shouldn't she be a bit bigger by now? I count backwards to her birth. Almost four months old. Tomorrow we'll stop in Keremeos on our way to the Kootenays. I'll take her into the Super Value and weigh her on the vegetable scales. Tomorrow I'll talk to Duncan again about adding meat to my diet. I am fearful of the discussion - he got very angry last time I mentioned it.

The baby is asleep at last. I feel my own eyelids droop. I monitor the heater a little longer and then gather my daughter up in her blankets and carry her to my side of the bed where I gently place her down. Standing again I move over to Sky's burrow and pick her up. She's limp and heavy with sleep. I hoist her into my


arms and carry her over to the bed as well. Arranging the two babies as best I can I lie down between them and their father. I face my back to him and to the heater. Reaching up I turn the oil lamp down until its flame expires, sending up a thin line of smoke. I stuff pillows along the curve of my back. I pull the blankets over us and curl around my children. I am the waxing crescent of a young moon. I am a mother bear denning with her cubs. I am the great wall, earth dragon, protecting my babies from the enemy. If the damn heater explodes my body will take in the blast. I watch the blue glow of the burning propane flicker around us, flicker on the rough weave of our curtains, on the rust of our walls, and I fall asleep, daring morning to arrive.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Jude Goodwin


9th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2021 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction

GULL WOMAN © Celeste Snowber

The seagulls are back. Or more accurately, I am back. The front of my body beholds their wings. My eyes gaze on their sweep and glide: how they dance and traverse the sky—the sky that is constantly changing. I was raised with seagulls. As an only child who lived by the sea, the Atlantic gulls were my first companions. The seagulls awakened me to light’s promise, and I felt secure in the midst of any troubles in my own childhood. I am a daughter of an artist mother, who survived the Armenian genocide. She was full of love and trauma; both resided in her bones. My mother’s screams of rage were present along with the cries of gulls. She loved the sea and made sure she settled our little family in an island town. The gulls lulled both my mother and I to another place. I never stopped longing for the gulls as I raised my own children far from the Atlantic, near the Pacific. Here, my three sons and I were in the embrace of tall cedars; green fertile growth was closer than the expanse of sky and sea. I now live in a condo where the large living room window provides a scape of mountains, sky, and a working river: the Fraser in British Columbia, Canada. Tugboats and skytrains accompany the natural world of gulls. I can never get enough of them and am hearkened to memory of how watching them in morning’s curriculum is a breakfast unto itself. They perturb some people, but their exclamations are as soothing as anything can be to me. I lapse into deep spaces of comfort and am settled in the haunt of their cries once again. The gulls are not aware of my presence, but their presence remains close to my skin’s knowing. The reality that they live within the city’s


bounds and announce their own particular rhythm bright with adagios restores my courage to show up and dance into my day amidst my responsibilities: multiple meetings, relentless logistics, and small decisions, all of which affect others. It is life of a university professor. But the life, which deeply animates my body and spirit, resides in what calls forth from the sea. I am an ocean child; raised on a small peninsula in Nahant, Massachusetts, outside Boston, and the sea in its many forms is where I claim my roots. I may have been an ocean child, and still am, but I am now a gull woman. I want to glide as they do – effortlessly. I know what it means to live with effort – a lot of it. Being a single parent for many years, raising an amazing tribe of three sons was a marathon. I might have been taking them to hockey, baseball, lacrosse, acting rehearsals, voice lessons, and multiple pick ups and drops offs of an encyclopedic variety, but the real marathon was to stay true to the track and show up. Show up with all of whom I really am—bringing both my decisive and wild nature, artistic and methodical ways, while making dinners and providing an income. I always hoped I could do this with a kind of effortlessness I had when dancing, but instead tears came effortlessly. There were also times of laughter and joy; all contributed to the flow of life. Now looking back, I see there were always moments of ease. I was a part-time seagull in a full time life with boy birds! Almost every day for the last few decades I walked a beautiful inlet that hugged the end of the Burrard Inlet outside Vancouver in my home of Port Moody. These walks eventually transformed into the material for my work as a site-specific dancer. Here there were always a colony of seagulls, along with eagles, heron and changing light. This was my food staple, a physical place on the land, which consistently sustained my soul. The seagulls were lifetime companions to each other. I am now a gull woman. I never saw it this way to now, as I am back with the view of seagulls of my childhood. I sit on my comfy chair and I gaze out at the vista, and they glide by, unannounced, one by one, sporadically. I am lifted out of the details of my work at the computer and I am called to glide. I am called to soar. Every moment has both pain and beauty. As I sit here there is unyielding trouble on the earth—and yet the seagulls keep faithful to their true being. They play in the sky.


And I am beckoned once again to play into the moment of coming home to my true nature. A reminder that playfulness is at the heart of creating and living. An invitation to traverse the day with grace.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Celeste Snowber


9th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2021 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction

DEAR COVID-19 © Angela Post Dear Covid-19:

You must be proud of yourself for making such a tremendous impact on the world. Who would have thought that a tiny virus could cause such devastation, panic, and giant-sized shifts in human ways of doing and being? Across nations, and in every corner of the earth, we have felt your presence. We have been afraid. You have terrorized us. You have forced us into a crisis state. You have created emotional turmoil, as though we are on a never ending coaster ride. We think the ride is over, but it is just another corner, with a wooden track that seems to rise up to the sky. It has been terrifying to see the death toll rising across the world. It has been hopeful to know that vaccines are in rapid development. It has been frightening to hear of rapidly spreading variants. It has been encouraging to see social media posts of many jabs in arms. The jabs give us hope that life may one day be as it was. You have introduced new understandings to our ever shifting vocabulary such as sticking to people only in one’s bubble, physical distancing, curb-side pickup, fourteen-day quarantine, masks required indoors, jabs in arms, and two metres apart.


If it takes twenty-one days to learn a habit, you have given us over a year to perfect our new ways of being and doing.

You forced us to ground flights, to close borders between countries, to shut down the happiest place on earth, to spend extensive amounts of time at home with those we live with, or if we live alone, with ourselves. You have cancelled, postponed, and placed strict limits on weddings, funerals, and all celebrations or gatherings that include more than a small handful of people. You have shown us that clean air is possible in heavily polluted areas, if we stop and give the earth a break. The mountains were always there and could only be seen when the smog cleared. Who knew? Without your forced lockdown, we may never have seen them. You have created confusion among world leaders, dissonant messages on whether or not to take you seriously. You have provoked fear and dread. You have caused pain and grief. You have dominated the news through all the months of 2020 and the start of 2021. You have provoked tensions. You have fuelled racial divisions, and encouraged finger pointing to find the source of blame. It is always easier to blame the other. You have forced us to learn new ways of working and new ways of relating to others. We have become experts at connecting with friends, coworkers and classmates online. You have pressed us to become more creative within the newly drawn boundaries of our Covid-19 infused existence. We have learned to work together across borders to share information. We have competed for scarce resources. You have evoked conspiracy theories and denial of your existence. You have pressed us to embrace learning and growth.


We have tried to move on with the start of 2021, and the promise of a vaccine rollout. You have morphed, like a shape-shifter, into rapidly spreading variants. How is it that a tiny virus can steal hope away so quickly? You have taken from us and you have gifted us with new understandings. In 2021, we will open borders across nations, push back your impact, and strive to resume life as it was before you arrived. The reality is dawning that we may have to learn to coexist with you rather than bidding you a farewell. Life may never return to what it was. You have urged us to look in the mirror as humans. To see that it is possible for us to work together across nations, and across divisions. You have shown us how interconnected we are. You have also shown us our shadow sides: competition for resources, casting of blame, and overlooking socioeconomic inequities. We will dedicate ourselves to internalize the lessons learned from your intrusive appearance. As we finally step off the coaster ride, we will strive to emerge transformed, with new wisdom, compassion and insight.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Angela Post


9th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2021 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction

ISCHIA’S LEMONS © Angela Douglas

After a miserable time in Naples, we were pumped for our trip to the island of Ischia. The ferry was an hour-long, and it was a brilliant day, so we sat outside to enjoy the sea air. The apartment we rented was a short ride from the terminal, and our host Guiseppe insisted on picking us up. He was good-looking, charismatic and definitely interested in Steph. By the end of the brief car ride, we had made plans with him for our last night on the island. The three-bedroom apartment looked exactly as it did in the photos; big, bright, clean, and the view was killer. We unpacked our suitcases after fighting over rooms and moseyed into town. After tromping around through trash in Naples, the pristine sea wall that bordered Forio was a release. We were travelling in the offseason, and not much was open. We stopped for cappuccinos and picked up groceries for dinner. We bought delicious ingredients and cheap wine. We napped and had a fantastic meal. The wine made all of our faces flush which was odd; it was usually only me who went red with alcohol. After we ate, we grabbed the wine and wandered back into town. We walked to the other side of the centre to admire the castle on the hill. By the time we made it back, we were exhausted. I had been coming down with a cold and was really feeling it now. We spent our days sleeping in, taking walks, having coffee and visiting the grocer who was becoming our friend. He had our wine on the counter ready to


go as we shopped for that night's meal. He always gave us a strange smile when he held the bottle up. On our last night, we had plans to go out with Guiseppe. We were happy to go out on our last night here. The ferry wasn't until late afternoon. That night there was an expected knock at the door. We were ready to go, but it wasn't Guiseppe when we opened the door. "Hullo, my name Marco" and pointed to himself. "I am the brother of Guiseppe." I held up one finger to motion for him to wait and shut the door to confer with the girls. This guy was little and harmless-looking, but still. I just shrugged. "Whatever, let's go." Steph grabbed her bag and opened the door. "We go to pick up my brother now." He politely opened the door for us to his tiny car as we wondered how we would all fit. Once we picked up Guiseppe, the mood lightened. His English was better, which made things less awkward, and he was charming. "Hello, ladies! How are you enjoying your stay?" Before we had a chance to answer, Marco rattled away at him about something. I understood the word vino, and that was about it. "Marco, he says - why they have so many empty cooking wine bottles in their place for such a short time?" Morgan, Steph and I all looked at each other and laughed as we told them we were drinking them nightly and thought they tasted great. He made a face and started yelling at his brother in Italian. Marco suddenly pulled over into a bush, tucked away off the road. "It's okay. Policia. We have no insurance on the car. Don't worry." We all exchanged a look as the car began to move again. It wasn't long before he pulled over in front of an apartment building. "We pick up one more."


A tall guy lumbered toward the car. We were officially nervous. "His name is Chillio." We quietly said hello as the four of us rearranged ourselves in the backseat. Morgan ended up on our laps. "Now we go to the house party!" Guiseppe clapped his hands together and did some weird seated dance where he looked like an 80-year-old man. "House Party? No, we are not going to a house party." I was terrified at how this night was shaping up. "Take us back." "Awww, come on…." His cuteness didn't work on me. I was tired, my head cold was blooming, and my heart was elsewhere. I had zero interest in hooking up with any of these clowns. Steph wanted to stay out, "how about a drink at a bar?" she asked. They spoke to each other in Italian for a while and then said, "Okay." We drove around trying to find an open establishment. We stopped once, and Guiseppe leaned his entire body out of the mini car to yank something off of a tree. He returned to his seat with a thud, testing the car's suspension. He smiled and held up two football-sized lemons. As we drove off in search of drinks, we ate some sugary-sweet lemon. Eventually, we parked outside of a closed bar. Chillio pounded on the door until someone answered. Guiseppe turned around and said, "It’s okay, we know him," Moments later, a kind older man with ‘bedhead’ opened his bar for us. The atmosphere was more relaxed here, though some of us remained on high alert. I was sipping the owner’s homemade Limoncello, and Steph was doing shooters like a Spring-Breaker in Cancun. Steph was raring to party and probably ready to skydive at that point, but I was done. My nose was running, and I felt gross. The owner fell asleep at the counter, so Guiseppe woke him up to pay the bill. His appeal has worn off in my eyes, but he was flirting hard with Steph.


We crunched back into the car, and he turned around to look at us, "You want fun or bed?" "Bed," I said in a huff. "FUN!" Woohooed Steph. Morgan and I exchanged a look. I was dying to leave, but we could not leave Steph alone. She nodded. "Take me back, please." "Oh, come on, lady, it is the day of the woman. Come celebrate." It's true; it was International Women's Day, something we didn’t know existed until then, and likely the reason these jokers were playing "Senza Una Donna" by Zucchero in their car on repeat. "You are on vacation. You need to make a choice." He said in a slithery voice. "Fun or Bed?" "Left or Right?" "Black or white?" He sounded more like a cartoon villain with each idiotic question. "Bed." He sighed and told Marco to start the car and where to go. To my surprise and delight, we were around the corner from our apartment. "Goodnight, and uh, thanks?" I made an awkward goodbye motion. The girls came inside to use the washroom. "I don't think you should go. These guys are duds - all they want is to hook up. I also think two of them are a lot younger than us. Maybe even 'jail bait.' "We’ll be fine." I watched them drive away, got into my PJs and flopped onto my mattress. An hour later, I woke up to laughter and crashing noises. Did they bring those chumps back here? I slowly peeked around the corner until I realized it was just the two of them.


"Thank goodness; I thought you brought 'greasy' and friends back for some action." They were laughing so hard they couldn't talk. Tears were rolling down their faces. "So…" Morgan cackled. "A house party in Italy…." "Yes?" "Is actually a nightclub." They both erupted with giggles. “Wait, what?” I didn’t understand. "They took us to some ridiculous lookout, and Marco got out of the car while the other two were trying to make moves on us in their tiny Fiat." Steph snorted. "The tall one tried to kiss Morgan." Morgan cringed. "I squirmed away and went outside with Marco, who tried the same thing." More noise-less laughter ensued. "I kissed Giuseppe for a few minutes, but he tasted like cigarettes, and I became aware that three people were waiting outside of the car for this to take off or end. I told him to take me home." They all got back in the car, sharing various forms of rejection and sadness as they drove back to the apartment. On the way, Guiseppe pointed out the window and said, "See, house party." He was pointing to a lively club, playing house music. We would have preferred the nightclub, and we would not have spent the whole evening squished in a car with those lemons. I was busting a gut now, too - what a night. In the morning, we were still chuckling as we walked into town for our last cappuccino at the cafe and said goodbye to the locals who brightened our stay. We also picked up one last bottle of cooking wine to go. It wasn't until we were packing that we discussed how our ride would be there soon. Guiseppe arrived right on time and was very professional. No flirting, no slipperiness, and frankly, no eye contact.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Angela Douglas


2021 RCLAS Write On! Contest Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions

has written and produced award-winning documentaries and docu-dramas for the Discovery Channel and CBC Television. He lives in the Fraser Valley along with Young-Sue Kim, and a tuxedo cat named DD. Many of his short stories and poems have been published and won numerous awards. He has just completed a 41 chapter historical novel “The Maverick King,” which is due out in the fall.

Alex Hamilton-Brown

Evelyn Schofield writes poetry and essays. She is retired, living in New Westminster, and active with RCLAS, New West Writers Group and the Poets Corner Reading Series. Her winning submission is a collection of reminiscences about her childhood in Ottawa and her father, who died unexpectedly when she was seventeen.

Jude Goodwin's

poems and prose have been published in print and online by various journals, have won or placed well in the IBPC: New Poetry Voices competition, and were twice shortlisted in the CBC Radio Literary Awards. Jude has a degree in Creative Writing with Douglas College and works out of her home in Port Coquitlam, BC.


2021 RCLAS Write On! Contest Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions

Celeste Nazeli Snowber, PhD

is dancer, poet, writer and educator who is a Professor in the Faculty of Education at SFU. She has published widely and her latest collection of poetry (2021) is The Marrow of Longing. She can be found at www.celestesnowber.com or dancing between the land and sea.

Angela Post grew up in a Yukon mining town with a Brazilian mother and Latvian father. She is a psychologist by day. Angela enjoys writing young adult and children’s stories. She has been longlisted for the Canada Writes Creative Nonfiction prize. One of her fiction stories was chosen as a winner in the SIWC Story Tellers contest and has been published in Pulp Literature magazine. She is currently completing a Young Adult book.

Angela Douglas loves to write creative non-fiction, especially travel stories. Having written for many organizations in the past, she now writes mostly for herself. When she isn’t working or chasing her children, she is ripping her hair out at her desk trying to edit her first novel. https://www.angeladouglas.ca


2021 WRITE ON! CONTEST COMMENTS FROM OUR NON-FICTION JUDGE KARIN HEDETNIEMI 2021 Non-Fiction Contest Winners First Place: Alexander Hamilton-Brown – Angela’s Diary Second Place: Evelyn Schofield – Bridges: Memories of Dad Third Place: Jude Goodwin – The Big Red Bus 2021 Non-Fiction Honourable Mentions Celeste Snowber – Gull Woman Angela Post – Dear Covid-19 Angela Douglas – Ischia's Lemons First Place Angela’s Diary by Alexander Hamilton-Brown This story was compelling, engaging, and unforgettable. The author's unique storytelling voice -- emotionally understated, with cultural, sensory-rich prose -- towed me through powerful undercurrents on a sister's search for her missing brother in Vancouver's gritty east side. From the first reading, this story stayed on my mind. Somewhere on the journey from "bannocks with butter and honey" to fish biting on the Tulameen River, it branded my heart.

Second Place Bridges: Memories of Dad by Evelyn Schofield When we no longer have photos or physical mementoes from our loved ones, our memories can be sparked through enduring gifts of humanity: architecture, music, language, art. In this story, I was invited into the writer's specific, close memories of her father, and yet, somehow I found my own father there: making pancakes, offering encouragement, and waiting patiently in the car. Should we ever need to lighten our loads with "a bonfire of the past" — our stories will endure.

Third Place The Big Red Bus by Jude Goodwin I liked the timelessness of this story, which takes place on one single night in a young mother's life. The first few words ("The baby is crying") evoked an immediate emotional response and curiosity. I enjoyed the natural rhythm between the narrator's inner thoughts, and beautifully clear observations of place ("The Milky Way is silent but the roar of the river fills the air.") And, that gentle mid-way pivot, confirming the era and flooding the reader's mind with background imagery.









GREECE: THE NEKROMANTEION: A Visit to the Underworld

by W. Ruth Kozak

I am aboard a boat cruising along the Greek coastline toward the delta of the Acheron River on the Ionian Coast of Greece. A brisk wind has blown up and the captain navigates through the choppy water sailing precariously close to the rocky shoreline. All along the coast great jagged rocks loom out of the sea like giant sea monster’s teeth. The limestone cliffs are riddled with caves. This is the wild coast that Circe described when she advised Odysseus who was going to Hades to conjure Achilles’s ghost.

We enter the mouth of the narrow river. The boat cuts a silent swathe through the jade coloured water. The air smells of the dampness of the earth. Thick reeds line the shore where I imagine crocodiles may once have lurked. This is the mysterious river, symbolized in Greek myth as the River Styx. There are no corpses aboard our boat, their eyes sealed shut with gold coins. The ferry man is not Charon, but a jovial old salt, Captain Kostas. Like Odysseus, I am going to visit the Oracle of the Dead, the Necromanteion, a mystical sanctuary that the ancient Greeks believed to be the entrance to the Underworld, Hades! It’s a chance to experience a séance ancient style.

“Beach your boat there and march into Hades’ Kingdom of Decay,” Circe ordered Odysseus. Captain Kostas moors the boat by a reedy embankment. He tells us we must walk a short distance up the hillside to reach our destination.


I trudge up the gravel road. Fields of corn grow abundantly in the fallow earth. Up on the hillside, there is a small grove of trees— mainly cypresses which are emblems of the dead, marking the site. Amid the trees, protected by cyclopeon walls and an inner circuit of polygonal masonry, dark passageways lead to the mouth of an underground cavern which was believed to be the entrance to the realm of Hades and Persephone. Ancients came here to consult the souls of the dead. Circe instructed Odysseus: “This is the spot, my lord, that I bid you seek out…then the souls of the dead and departed will come up in multitudes.”

The Necromanetion was inhabited from Mycenaean times in the Bronze Age but wasn’t discovered by archaeologists until 1958. This was the most famous sanctuary of its kind in antiquity. The ancients believed that a persons soul was immortal after its freedom from the body, and that a mortal’s contact with the dead, demanded special sacrifices and rituals. Offerings of milk, honey and the blood of sacrificed animals were made in the hope of conjuring the spirits of the departed. The Nekromanteion is an example of how the priests played mind-games with the supplicants.

Pilgrims were lodged in a windowless cell to await their trip to the Underworld, and subjected to physical and spiritual tests, obliged to follow a special diet of beans and various hallucinogenic substances. After several days of magical rituals, prayers, invocations, and questioning by the priests, the supplicants were led down the mysterious labyrinth-like corridor filled with hallucinogenic smoke, to the entranceway of Hades, having faith that the apparitions of the dead would appear to them. A vault, deep in the bowels of the earth, was thought to be the dark palace of Persephone and Hades, the meeting place of the Dead and the Living. As I walk the narrow labyrinth to the cavern I image what it would be like for the supplicants as they inhaled the hallucinogenic smoke and they groped their way to the entrance. I descend into the cold, musty crypt by a narrow stairway. The underground chamber is carved in the rock with fifteen stone arches supporting the roof. It smells of ancient mould and damp earth.


As I stand in the gloom of the stone cavern I try to conjure a few ghosts of my own. It is an eerie place, and not impossible to imagine how the pilgrims, disoriented and under the influence of potions, could be fooled into believing the Dead were really there communicating with them. During Roman times, the Oracle was proven to be a hoax when pulleys were discovered in the chamber, which apparently had been used to hoist up the priests who simulated the departed and answered the questions of the pilgrims. After that the Necromanteion was destroyed.

I emerge from the spooky earthen chamber into the bright afternoon sunlight. Although it was an unearthly experience, I didn’t visualize any spirits other than those of the pilgrims who may still linger there.

-

W. Ruth Kozak











RCLAS Announcements RCLAS presents Tellers of Short Tales – Online Edition Feature Author Maria Reva Date: Thurs October 28, 2021 Time: 6:00 to 8:00pm Zoom room will open early for open mic sign up starting at 05:30 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 You will be sent the zoom link via email or Facebook message.

The evening will include an Open Mic for short stories. Space is limited. FREE ONLINE ZOOM EVENT. Everyone Welcome.

Maria Reva writes fiction and opera libretti. She is the author of Good Citizens Need Not Fear (Doubleday, Virago, and Knopf Canada New Face of Fiction, 2020). Maria’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic, McSweeney’s, The Wall Street Journal, Granta, The Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. She won a National Magazine Award in 2019 and was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust of Canada 2020 Fiction Prize. Her current musical collaborations include an opera with composer Anna Pidgorna (developed by Musique 3 Femmes in Montreal), as well as a song cycle with Shelley Marwood. Past collaborations include an opera libretto for ERATO Ensemble, texts for Vancouver International Song Institute’s Art Song Lab, and a script for City Opera Vancouver. Maria was born in Ukraine and grew up in New Westminster, British Columbia. She received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas.


Poetic Justice Online Edition with Host Carol Johnson Date: Sunday November 14, 2021 Time: 3:00 to 5:00 pm (Pacific Time)

Featuring: Bernice Lever Jane Munro Open Mic sign up starts at 2:30pm. Find more info on Poetic Justice Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/poeticjusticepnw RSVP to secretary@rclas.com to receive Zoom Link or contact Carol Johnson on Facebook. Please note that if have the link from last month it will work through January.

Feature Bios:

Bernice Lever has published more than 10 books of poetry as well as short prose. She has read poems, across Canada, the U.S. and on four other continents, won four Lifetime Achievement awards and has been a stalwart of Canadian literature, actively involved with the Canadian Authors Association, League of Canadian Poets, Federation of BC Writers, World Poetry and local writer groups including being a long-time member of the Royal City Literary Arts Society. Bernice lives on beautiful Bowen Island, British Columbia.

Jane Munro’s seventh poetry collection is Glass Float (Brick Books, 2020). Blue Sonoma (Brick Books) won the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize. Her previous poetry books include Active Pass (Pedlar Press), Point No Point (McClelland & Stewart), and Grief Notes & Animal Dreams (Brick Books). Munro’s newest book is a prose memoir, Open Every Window (Douglas & McIntyre, 2021). A Sally Port (Espresso chapbooks, 2018) consists of prose pieces about her childhood. Munro is a member of the collaborative poetry group Yoko’s Dogs who have published Caution Tape (Collusion, 2021), Rhinoceros (Gaspereau, 2016), and Whisk (Pedlar, 2013). She lives in Vancouver.


RCLAS presents Voices Across the Border Featuring Poets Candice James and Edna Kovacs Date: Tuesday November 16, 2021 Time: 7:00pm to 8:00pm Pacific Zoom room will open early at 06:45 PM Pacific Time Let us know on the Facebook event page if you would like to attend. OR RSVP by email to secretary@rclas.com You will be sent the zoom link via email or Facebook message. FREE ONLINE ZOOM EVENT. Everyone Welcome. Edna Kovacs is the author of numerous books including the groundbreaking Writing Across Cultures. She is a certified journal therapy instructor and master gardener. Edna holds a PhD in Expressive Arts with a specialization in Multicultural Education. She currently facilitates community writing workshops in Portland, Oregon. Margot Van Sluytman, author and Social Justice Professor at Centennial College states the following about In A Place Called Sanctuary~Writings From A Healing Garden: “What you will appreciate about Edna Kovacs’ beautiful work is its simplicity that burgeons with grace and power. This is a book of mighty, mighty healing Energy!”

Candice James is a visual artist, musician, singer-songwriter and Poet Laureate Emerita of New Westminster BC CANADA. She is the founder of The Fred Cogswell Award For Excellence in Poetry and also the Founder of Royal City Literary Arts Society. She is the author of 17 books of poetry, spanning 1979 -2021through 6 publishing houses. She has sold over 64 of her original paintings. Her awards include the Bernie Legge Artist Cultural Award and Pandora’s Collective Citizenship Award.

Join us for a wonderful evening of poetry!


RCLAS presents In Their Words Online Edition with host Ruth Kozak Date: Thursday November 18, 2021 Time: 7:00pm Pacific Time Three Feature Presenters Zoom room opens at 06:45 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada). To receive ZOOM link RSVP by email to secretary@rclas.com You can also contact Ruth Kozak via Facebook.

Save The Dates Poetic Justice Events on Zoom SUNDAY NOV 14 SUNDAY DEC 1


RCLAS presents Tellers of Short Tales – Online Edition Feature Author Richard Toews Date: Thurs November 25, 2021 Time: 6:00 to 8:00pm Zoom room will open early for open mic sign up starting at 05:30 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. FREE ONLINE ZOOM EVENT. Everyone Welcome.

Richard Toews is the author of “The Confession,” and “The Quiet in the Land,” two novels exploring the Mennonite world within the larger world of Russia in a time of crisis: WW II and the Russian Revolution. Toews spent his academic years teaching at Simon Fraser University’s First Nations Institute in Kamloops. During his time at SFU, Toews focused his research on the nature of justice as a defensive wall against totalitarianism. Both of his novels are the result of his academic life. In addition to writing novels, Toews has written, produced and directed a short film, “The Prodigal,” (winner of a Gold Remi at the Houston International Film Festival).


INCLUDING ANNOUNCEMENT OF OUR 2021 COGSWELL AWARD LONGLIST TOP 3 TO BE ANNOUNCED IN DECEMBER







Best Friends © Jerena

Tobiasen

The young girl stood at the edge of the forest. It was late, the dark night lit only by the sliver moon. Behind her, she heard her parents calling, pleading for her to return. She knew that would never happen. Her determination kept her feet facing forward, despite a slight sway to the contrary. Photo by Free-Photos, Pixabay

“Julia!” Their mingled voices drifted on the evening dew. “Julia, come back, dear. We love you.” “No,” Julia said with quiet determination. “I must go, no matter what.”

A deep woof announced the rival of her best friend Pal, a black Labrador Retriever. On her second birthday, Julia’s father had placed the small puppy in her arms and made her promise to love and care for him, or he would give the puppy to someone else. Determined to keep her promise, the young girl nodded ferociously, clutching the puppy to her chest as he squirmed to be released. Photo by Pexel, Pixaby

Julia had kept her promise. For ten years, she had ensured that Pal was fed, groomed, walked and taken to the veterinarian for regular check-ups. Until he understood his responsibility as Julia’s companion, he was placed in a pen next to Julia’s bed at night, and only allowed to roam during


the day. Once he understood that he should use a corner at the back of the yard for his business, and that he should ask to be let out to do so, Pal was allowed to sleep at the foot of her bed. Julia’s mother tucked her into bed each night, caressing her hair and kissing her forehead. Then she pet Pal’s head and called him ‘good dog’ before she turned out the light and closed the door. As soon as Pal heard the latch catch, he crawled on his belly until he stretched beside his best friend, his head resting on the pillow next to hers.

Pal matured faster than Julia and, by the time she was ready to start school, he had become her protector. Each school day, they set off together, meeting up with Julia’s friends along the way. When the school bell rang, Julia would tell Pal to go home and come back later. Pal did as he was told.

This evening, Julia had said goodbye to Pal. She knew he could not accompany her through the forest. Surprised to hear his approach, she bent down and hugged his neck, rubbing her cheek against his glossy black coat.

Photo by Pascalmwiemers, Pixabay

“Pal,” she said scolding the dog, “I told you not to come.”

Julia could not be mad at her friend. She loved him too much. Instead, she scrubbed behind his ears, and giggled when he licked her nose. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Julia said. “The forest can be spooky at night.”

An owl hooted in the old oak tree towering above them, startling Julia. “Come on,” Julia said. “We may as well get this over with.” She glanced at her friend, wrapping her fingers around his collar for confidence. “I’m glad you came.”


Together, the dog and the young girl stepped onto the narrow path that led into the forest. The owl hooted again, as if to warn them. They had not walked far when something scooted across their path squeaking. Julia gasped. As if sensing her fear, Pal woofed again and licked her arm before stepping forward. Still holding his collar, Julia followed. Quiet settled around them as Julia’s eyes and ears adapted to the darkness. She inhaled the damp, mossy odour of ancient rot and felt a calm blanket her. “I never realized how loud the forest can be at night,” she said, not expecting a reply. “It’s not quiet in here at all. Listen!”

They took tentative steps into the dark, listening to chirping laments, scurrying feet, owl hoots. Snap! Julia jumped at the sound of the breaking twig. “What was that?” She listened again, squinting into the dark. Pal tugged her along the path. Snap! “Woof!” Pal barked with authority, his long tongue bobbing in and out of his open mouth. “Woof!”

Julia stiffened with fear when the dog stopped abruptly, lowering his head and growling. High above the treetops, a cloud shifted, exposing the sliver moon to cast light on the path. Masked white faces of a mother racoon and three babies shaped like teapots glowed in the luminescence. Photo by xxdarksidexx, Pixabay

“Woof!” Pal barked again, as if to scold the racoons for scaring them. Seeming embarrassed, the racoons disappeared hastily into the brush. Pal pulled again.


The sounds of the forest grew louder as Julia and Pal approached its far side. Songbirds seemed to sing with joy, the owl’s hoots marking the low notes, the forest susurration filling in a soothing background. “How curious?” Julia said. “The night has only fallen, yet I see sunlight ahead. Surely we cannot have been in the forest for so long.”

Pal sneezed and shook his head, love reflecting in his gleaming eyes. He rested his head against her thigh. “Thank you, Pal,” Julia said, bending to hug his neck again. “As always, you have seen me safely along the path, but I think you should return home to mother and father. They will need you to comfort them when they realize I won’t return. I must walk free of the forest Photo by lokalsportessen, Pixabay

myself.”

She allowed him to wash her face with his loving licks, then rubbed her cheeks dry on his glossy coat. “Go now,” she said in a whisper, and watched as he raced back along the path, his tail wagging happily from side to side.

Julia stood tall, straightened her nightgown and tossed golden waves over her shoulder. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself and stepped free of the forest into the blinding light. “Hello, Julia,” a kindly voice said. “We’ve been waiting for you. Welcome.”

Photo by jplenio, Pixabay


~ “Woof! Woof!” Pal barked as he approached the back door of the home that he had shared with Julia for the past ten years. “Woof! Woof!” “Pal!” Julia’s father said, opening the door. “You’ve missed her, old friend, but I’m sure she’d be happy to know you’re safe.” Pal raced passed Julia’s father, tripping up the stairs to her bedroom. Julia’s mother sat quietly in an old green chair next to Julia’s bed, tears staining her pale cheeks. He licked her hand, turned to the bed and jumped. Instead of resting at the foot of the bed as he always did, he dropped gently beside his best friend, resting his head on the pillow next to hers, her eyes closed in perpetual sleep. “Good dog,” Julia’s mother said. Photo by bhumann, Pixabay

--------------------------------------------------------- Best Friends copyright Jerena Tobiasen





THE RACE

© Margo Prentice

Black curly hair falls down his forehead as Jack swings his tall sinewy frame and jumps out of bed. Today is the day of the big race and he is not stiff or sore, his body feels relaxed and warm. Working hard he has practiced with his coach a couple of hours each day for weeks. He is sad that his father was no longer living with them and not there to see his run. He couldn’t understand why his Dad had changed after getting laid off work. He was angry and sometimes violent. He remembers the night he left and can still hear his parents arguing. He remembers jumping, when he realizes his mother was being hit. He tried to stop his Dad but couldn’t. Agitated and screaming the police they took his Dad away. His mother had recovered from her broken jaw and bruises. Jack dresses and joins his mother and sister to eat a breakfast of porridge and toast. “Hey, today’s your big race eh Jack,” Abby smiles at him. “I know you’re gonna win, you’re gonna win!” Abby runs to him and jumps up to him to give him a hug. She is a bright-eyed cheerful eight year-old and adores her big brother. “It’s okay Abby,” replies his Mother, “Finish your breakfast. We’ll see your big brother later. Now you get dressed and go make your bed.” “Yes, today’s the day,” and with a big grin smiles at them both. He finishes his breakfast, gets up to leave, his Mother gives him a warm hug. “Good luck, I know you are going to win” She kisses him on the cheek. As walks down the path to the gate he waves to his mother and sister, “See you later at the track. Wish me luck.” They both wave goodbye.


Jack walks to the high school stadium loosening his body in preparation for his important race. If he wins this race Jack would be eligible for the national finals. Walking down the quiet streets of his neighbourhood he can see his high-school in the distance. Jack stops, does a few stretches and starts a slow jog towards the school stadium. The wooden bleachers are gray; but he cannot see the track, he can hear the voices of his competitors yelling as they practice their starts. Opening the high chain-link gate, he slams it shut and walks through the narrow opening between the wooden seats. He sees his coach and waves. The coach waves back with a smile. Jack marvels at the big oval which is a quarter mile in distance. The running lanes are marked with clear white lines against the black of the asphalt ground sand. Around the track is a large green grass field where he can see the soccer field goal posts in the far distance. The weather is cool and a slight breeze caresses his face. The sky is cloudy and much greyer than earlier this morning. Coach smiles and pats him on the back. “Go do some stretches. I know you will make good time today. I know, just know, you’re going to do your best time today.” As he is warming up on the grass people start to fill the small stadium. He walks to his blocks and gets into position. Ready! Set! Go! He springs up into a running position and pushes himself off the running blocks onto the track into a full run. Not noticing the darkening clouds, he feels his rhythm in full swing. He is unaware that he is the lead runner. The clouds break and rain starts to pour in a deluge. He keeps on running and feels the chill of the wet cold rain on his skin. Traction on the track is still good. He hears the cheers of the small crowd as he crosses the finish line. His coach runs over to him with a towel to wrap around his shoulders and pats him on the back, “Hey buddy, in spite of the rain your time was excellent, good enough for the nationals. Congratulations.” He looks into the bleachers and cannot see his Mother or Abby and is puzzled why they are not there. As he prepares to go home he phones his home but there is no answer. Curious to find out why his mother hadn’t come to see him run, he decides to run home. His mother would be excited know what his results are. He arrives at his house to find the front door is open. There is a police car in his driveway. “Mom! Abby!” Jack screams bursting into the house.


He sees that some of the furniture is overturned. Now he is frightened that something has happened to his mother and Abby. Two armed policemen are standing in the living room. “I’m Officer Jim Jones and this is officer, Bailey.” “Where are my mother and sister?” “They are okay and will be home after they are checked. We had a report your father had escaped from the hospital and we came to the house to check if he was here. He got here before we did and learned that your father had forced them into the car at gunpoint. Police reports said a car was driving erratically and a police vehicle went after them in pursuit. It was your mother’s car and your father was driving. They managed to stop and surround the car; your father came out with a gun and began shooting. I am sorry to tell you that your father is dead. Your Mother and sister are being checked at the hospital.” An hour had passed, the officer Jim asked if he wanted anything. Hungry? Pizza? Jack shakes his head no. The phone rings. “Yes,” answered Officer Jim. “Okay I’ll tell him.” “Your mother and sister are alright and will be home soon.” When his mother and sister came through the door Jack runs and hugs them tightly. “I’m so glad you are safe. Are you okay?” He knelt down and took his sister’s hand. She looked straight into his eyes and nodded “Yes.” Jack’s Mother takes him aside and talks silently in his ear, “He said he was going to kill us both and then shoot himself in the head. Then he forced us out of the house into my car. I only remember holding on to Abby, a siren and your father jumping out of the car. Next there was a blast of gun fire and silence. All I could hear was a screaming in my head. I’m okay now…. I’m so sorry.” A month later mother decided that they should move. A fresh start, a new neighbourhood would be good for all of them with memories of the old house behind them. Their new house is only a short block from a church. The church is an old and beautiful building with light filtering through stained glass. They all liked the congregation and the pastor, “Pastor Joe,” who befriended them. He warmly welcomed them to the church and new neighbourhood. Jack even


had a part-time job working with Rudi, the church caretaker. They all settled in quite nicely and life seemed to becoming normal. Jack decided to take a day off from school. He had breakfast, put his running gear and decided he would go for a run along the river bank. It was a cloudless warm day and as he ran, he could hear the flow of the river, birds singing in the trees and felt at peace. He stopped to drink from his water bottle and sat down on a rock beside the trail. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a sharp silver glint of sun bounce off something just a way from where he was sitting. He got up to take a look and noticed a mirror resting on the bank. It was completely intact. Not a scratch on it and in a beautifully carved wooden frame. He walked down the bank and nudged it. He picked it up, wiped it off with his hands and decided to take it home. Maybe Abby would like it in her room. When he got home, Abby was drawing at the kitchen table. She looked up at him saying, “Whatcha got there?” “I found this by the river, thought it might look nice in your room.” He replied. “I’ll hang it up later.” After supper Jack hung the mirror in Abby’s room. “Sure looks nice Abby says,” I like it. At two in the morning a blood curdling scream from Abby’s room and startles Jack and his mother ran to Abby’s room to see what is wrong. Abby is sitting up, screaming at the top of her voice, “A monster is in my room and he is breathing on me. Tell him to go away.” “It’s alright baby, there is no one in your room.” As her mothers swoops her in her arms. “You can sleep with me tonight and everything will be alright.” Jack frowns, sniffs and furrows his brows, “Do you smell that awful smell? I’m going to open the window and get some in here. The next morning is Saturday. After breakfast Abby leaves the table and walks down the hall to her room. She is calm and not afraid, as if she has forgotten about the monster that terrified her the night before. Jack walks to the track for a practice run, with thoughts about Abby’s night. He reached into his packet and felt a card; he looked at it realizing it was the card the police had given him. “Maybe all that happened to Dad affected Abby. I


wonder? Jack remembered that the police said a counsellor was available to help them.” On his way home he passes a pet shop and looks through the window at the kittens in a small fenced area inside the store. He walks in looks at the kittens and smiles when he glances at an adorable small grey one. “All I have is twenty dollars, can I buy that one,” pointing to the grey kitten, “I would like to buy him for my sister.” The young clerks smiles, and says, “Sure you can have her for twenty dollars, I will even throw in some cat food and litter.” He takes the kitten and puts in a box and puts the food and litter in a bag. Arriving home Jack walks through the front door and yells, “Abby, I have a surprise for you.” Abby slowly walks and runs to the box on the floor. She opens it and with a big grin holds the kitten to her face. “I love him! I love him!” That Monday when Jack arrives home he asks about Abby. His mother tells him she is still in her room. He walks down the hall, opens her door to see at her table drawing. “Hey, been keeping busy with art I see, let me have a look.” Abby looks up and Jack walks towards the table. She puts her hands on her drawing to cover it. Jack pulls her hands away. At first he cannot figure out what is on the paper. On closer look the drawings are thick black lines, black crosses and red circles with black dots in the middle. Not like anything Abby would have drawn before. “Can you tell me what your drawing is about?” He pulls up a small chair and sits besides her. Abby keeps drawing up and down the paper faster and faster. Then she stops, looks up and Jack and says, “Hi.” Abby turns keeps drawing, and says, “”It’s the bad mommy eating her baby.” “Abby, that’s terrible. Why are drawing something like that? “ “I don’t know………… the lady in the mirror eats her baby.” She replies as she continues to press heavily into the paper she is drawing on. “Abby that’s awful,” He puts his hand on hers to stop her drawing. “Abby what do you mean the lady in the mirror?”


“I see her and she talks to me.” She folds her hands, puts them on the table and starts to laugh. Mother walks into the room to take Abby’s laundry. She sniffs, and says, “You know even with the window open airing out this room that horrible smell is still here, even the kitten won’t come into the room. Come on, both you two, get ready, we are going out for lunch.” Later that day when Jack comes home after a practice run he stops, and can hear Abby singing in her room. She is drawing again, this time he looks and she is drawing grotesque faces. She stops and looks up at Jack with a crazed look in her eyes. She stops singing, gets off her chair. “Hi,” he says. “Lo,” Abby replies. “Hey did you feed the cat today?’ “No,” Abby nods. “Where is he?” he asks. Abby points to her closet. Jack walks to the door and opens it. He cannot believe what he sees. The beautiful little kitten is hanging from the cloths bar with Abby’s skipping rope tied tightly around its neck. Shaken, Jack takes the kitten down. She is dead. “Abby, Abby what happened?” Abby starts singing and prancing…”I did it, I did it. The lady in the mirror told me how to.” Jack unties the cat and wraps it in one of Abby’s sweaters. He takes Abby hand runs to the kitchen sits her down and returns to put a knife in her door to lock it. He is shaking as he dials Pastor Joe’s phone number. “Pastor Joe, you have to come over here something horrible is going on. Can you come over right away? Twenty minutes? Okay.” Abby runs back to the door to her room pounding on the door, yelling, “I want to be with my Daddy, He’s in the mirror too.”


Jack pulls her away and sits her down in the kitchen holding her down. He hears the lock on the front door. It is his mother coming home. “Quick come in, you take care of Abby. Something is very wrong in Abby’s room and I know it’s got to be that mirror.” Breathlessly he yells,” She killed the kitten, said something about the lady in the mirror telling her to do it. That thing is evil!” Abby’s screams become louder and louder. There is another knock on the door, it is Pastor Joe. “Come in; come in pastor, “Abby’s mother yells. He approaches Abby and puts his hand on head with a blessing. “Hey that hurts,” as she falls into her mother’s arms crying softly. “Dear Lord Jesus, what’s that horrible smell?’ he asks. In, Abby’s room there is a mirror. Abby says it tells her to do things, terrible things. The smell is coming from her room,” Jack answers. “Okay Jack, let’s go to Abby’s room and see what going on.” He pulls the knife out of the door. “What a stink!” He walks to the mirror. He puts a hand on his chest and stumbles slightly. Oh my God, I feel a terrible pain just looking at it. Let’s take it down right now and get it out of here! Get the sheet off the bed and we’ll wrap it up in that.” Jack wraps the mirror in the sheet and runs outside to Pastor Joe’s car and puts the mirror in the trunk of the car. When they arrive at the church Jack notices smoke coming from the trunk. When they open the trunk the sheet is on fire. Pastor Joe pulls the sheet off the mirror and stamps the fire out. “You grab one end and will take the other and we’ll take this down to the basement to the big furnace. As they are running down the aisle,” Pastor Joe yells, “Rudi, come down to the furnace room now!” They put the mirror down, he tells Rudi, “Let’s make this fire as hot as we can and when it is burning we will throw this abomination into the fire.” The fire starts with a pouf and explodes into flame. They pick up the mirror and throw it into the fire. A horrifying noise and a chorus of wails come from inside the furnace when the fire becomes a roaring ball of hissing. The sound moves through the furnace room and like tornadoes swirl through the quiet beauty of


the church in a torment of cries and screams. They wait until there until the all the sounds have stopped. “Stop,” Pastor Joe raises his hand, we will wait, and as soon as the ashes have cooled we will bury them in consecrated holy ground in the back of the church graveyard. Rudi go get a box to put them in.” They wait, the ashes cool and Rudi, Jack and Pastor Joe bury the box deep in the darkest corner of the church yard. Months later Jack is back at school doing well with his track and field sports. Abby is her happy self again and they are all adjusting, happy once again. In the corner of the graveyard shaded by the church building away from all the other graves where the ashes of the mirror had been buried a strange gnarled black tree is growing slowly in the shadows.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------ copyright Margo Prentice






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