Saturday, 18 May 2019

Guest Author Mitchell Toews of Manitoba, Canada.





“Writer. I have jumped out of the burning building and I'm tying the bedsheets together as I fall. So far, so good.”





When you visit Mitchell’s Twitter page, that’s his introduction.  Can’t go wrong with an author like  that.

Mitchell and grandson Ty.



The Scribbler is most privileged to have Mitchell as our guest this week. He has agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt from his debut novel WIP, “Mulholland and Hardbar”.





Mitchell Toews lives and writes lakeside in Manitoba. When not writing or if the sun beckons too persuasively, he finds alternative joy in the windy intermingling between the top of the water and the bottom of the sky or skates on the ice until he can no longer see the cabin.

He has stories in a variety of literary markets in the US, Canada, the UK, and beyond. Details can be found at his website, Mitchellaneous.com

Mitch is currently at work on a noir novel set in the boreal forest, editing an SFF novella, and writing grant applications to keep the proverbial wolves from the door.








4Q: Your short stories appear in several anthologies. Groota Pieter was previously published in The River Poets Journal and has been accepted for publication for a new anthology, We Refugees. Tell us about the story.




MT: Fiction lets me address subjects that I find difficult to discuss otherwise. In this case, it’s the fact that Mennonites—“my people”—who came to Canada in a semi-forced immigration in 1874 now find themselves among the gatekeepers for today’s refugees. While nineteenth century Mennonites from Southern Russia were welcomed to the brand-new Province of Manitoba, some of their descendants now align themselves with those who are fearful and restrictive when it comes to present day diasporas.

Midway between these two polarities stands “Groota Pieter”. In the Sixties, our little grade school in Steinbach, Manitoba had its own flood of immigrants—a dozen or so Mexican Mennonite families.

In the story, I use one of the new kids, “Big Peter”, as a symbol for how immigrants are often viewed. It’s inconvenient and confusing to welcome strangers and all their apparent differences in culture, “values”, and habits. Canadian Mennonites today have not forgotten or chosen to denigrate their own families’ past travails but, I suspect, it’s more a matter of not being able to imagine these so-called alien newcomers in Manitoba. What a disappointing twist that settler Mennonites, who suffered as a people dispossessed in Europe only to have their descendants—many now once again members of the landed economic elite, this time in Canada—behave with moral ambiguity, and in some cases, religious intolerance.

Many modern Canadian Mennonites have constructed an insulative moral landscape built upon a maxim, “What would Jesus do?”, together with precepts like hard work, honesty (to the point of believing they invented it) and a daily life of church-family-devotion. This cocoon shelters them from the wayward outside world but may also dissuade critical self-examination.

“Us and them” is a powerful inclination. It opens us up to being overrun by fear and suspicion. Seneca said, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage,” and we need to see this courage as a relatable virtue in our new neighbours—broaden our empathy and lower our fences.

I’ve tried to use humour, human nature, and the guileless character of childrenalong with the commonality of a simple game like baseballto underscore an obvious message. We’re all just people. Obvious but, it seems, hard to live by. I hope this childlike outlook depowers the us and them tendency and, in some small way, expands the moral landscape.





4Q: What are you working on now?





MT: Even though I’m not one of those people who thrives on chaos, it kinda looks like I am. I have a lot on the go. Short stories are heart and soul for me, so that keeps on being a part of every day. Writing, editing, submitting and shamelessly promoting. (Allowing for the fact that Mennonites don’t do “shameless”. We always feel guilty about something!)

I completed a debut novel over a year ago and have been editing since then. I am fortunate to have a skilled and engaging editor to work with. (He’s a Londoner and the possessor of a kick-ass literary pedigree.) The novel is moving down the road, only partly on the rumble strip. I hope to be able to query it this year.

Those are the itchiest spots right now, but I also have a short story trilogy that I believe—along with a few supportive others—would make a great adaptation for a screenplay. An SFF novella first draft is also done but lies dormant, needing some tough love before it gets to the finish line. 



Those last two darlings get a bit of energy as does preparing grant applications. After all, the pickup needs gas, the fridge needs beer, my editor needs paying, as do airfares if I want to visit the grandkids on the coast. I was recently recognized as a New/Early Career Artist by the Canada Council for the Arts and I hope to get some assistance to cover expenses and help me to build my craft and meet other writerly folk in the wild.





4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.





MT: My wife said this was too boring, but I’ll take my usual course and avoid her good advice. As a youngster, having consumed the entire Hardy Boys detective series and all the comics I could buy, I hungered for more. Our school and town libraries had lots of books, but I had chewed through most of the children’s collections and much of it was of a more Christian bent than I was looking for. You know… the wide world beckoning and all.

Anyway, I discovered the University of Manitoba Extension Library. Pre-internet, by a lot. You obtained a copy of their print catalogue and a mailing address. Books were ordered and received by mail.

I remember one day when I was home from school with the mumps and Dad walked in with a brown kraft paper bundle, tied with white cotton string. A cluster of stamps and “Mitchell Toews, Box 220, Steinbach, Manitoba” was written in prim librarian longhand, with the tell-tale swirls and blots of a fountain pen. The parcel was heavy with adventure: Treasure Island, A Rookie at Leaf’s Camp, The Red Schoendienst Story, The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread awaited me within the lignum scented confines. All for free and each month a fresh list of “New Titles — Just Received!”

Not unlike the row of tractors that sat dripping oil on the Case dealer lot, each capable of magical transformation into a P51 Mustang that took me for snarling barrel-rolls high above the prairies, these books gave me the world in a brown paper wrapper and all I had to do was imagine.





4Q: Every author, artist or other creative types have their favorite spot to work from. Tell us about yours and what your writing habits are like.





MT: Janice and I live on the shores of a small lake. Any spot with a viewwhether in the 1950 cabin, out in the “she shed” (a screen porch down by the water), up in the loft, or the workshopis where I write. Bug free and above freezing are my only requirements. An oily tractor seat or P51 cockpit is nice, but if not, I stand.









An excerpt from “Mulholland and Hardbar”

(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)





The following excerpt features a blustery dispensation given by the story’s antagonist, James Friesen, aka Hardbar. He is that person you’re not certain you want for a friend but know for sure you don’t want as an enemy. He’s a villainous sort, but funny and nobody’s fool and he travels in heavy boots over the shortest distance between right and wrong, always ending on wrong.







[…] Hardbar stared at Mulholland for a second and then yanked on the anchor rope with a start. “Well, tell the truth, I don’t gave a fuck.”

Mulholland stared back and waited for a moment before he replied. He reeled in his fishing line and stowed the rod in the rack. “So, you don’t gave a fuck. Izzat right?”

“That’s right, that’s right.Hardbar unzipped his jacket and dug for cigarettes. Finding some, he gestured at Mulholland with a backhand wave, one fingernail dark purple. “Fier,” he said in Plautdietsch, then leaned forward with a grunt and snatched the lighter from atop the tackle box.

“You mean you don’t give a fuck,” Mulholland said, deadpan.

“Nope. Gave.”

“How…”



“See, I knew when you started talking that when you finished, I would not give a fuck, so I could exactly say, before you finished, that my fuck-giving was in da bag. I knew I was no way gonna give a fuck. It was already the time, before you finished talking when I had already quit fuck-giving.” Hardbar held his hands palms-up, and the new-lit cigarette smoked white in his fingers, dirty with silver minnow scale that made his hands sparkle in the setting sun. “It’s too late to say, ‘I don’t give,’ because I’m already all the way to 'I don't GAVE,’. You understand?”



“Now I don’t gave a fuck,” Mulholland replied, his arm stretched out to retrieve the lighter.





Thank you so much Mitchell for being our guest this week.



For those interested in discovering more about Mitchell and his writing, please follow these links.







@mitchell_toews




You can also read Mitchell's short stories on commuterlit.com 




🍁 CommuterLit.com has run nine of Mitchell’s short fictions. In June 2016 the e-zine published “The Red River Valley Trilogy“:  “Encountered on the Shore” (Appeared twice: Rerun October 2017 – see below), “A Vile Insinuation”, and “Without Reason”. The linked stories concern, respectively: the aftermath of a violent encounter on a city street; a young American leaving the ball fields of North Dakota for the killing fields of Vietnam; and a devout Mennonite man grappling with cancer and faith.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Returning Author Diana Stevan of British Columbia






The Scribbler has a treat for you this week.




Very pleased to have Diana back. She was our guest four years ago, almost to the day. In that post, Diana shared an excerpt from her novel A Cry From The Deep and if you missed that, please go HERE. So much has taken place since then and this week, she will share her thoughts in a 4Q Interview and an excerpt from her latest work – Sunflowers Under Fire.






Diana Stevan’s had an eclectic work life. She’s not only worked as a clinical social worker, but also as a teacher, librarian, model, actress and a sports writer-broadcaster for CBC television. With writing her passion, she’s published newspaper articles, poetry, and a short story in Escape, an anthology. She also has a background in screenwriting and was agented for three screenplays.

Sunflowers Under Fire, historical fiction, is her third novel. Her earlier works are: A Cry From The Deep, a romantic mystery/adventure novel; The Blue Nightgown, a coming-of-age story novelette; and The Rubber Fence, women’s fiction novel, inspired by her work on a psychiatric ward. Other interests include: reading, traveling, hiking, cycling, and gardening.

Diana lives with her husband Robert on Vancouver Island and in West Vancouver, British Columbia.

  





4Q: Since your last visit Diana, you’ve penned two novels and I’d like to talk about them. First tell us about Sunflowers Under Fire.




DS: Sunflowers Under Fire is historical fiction, based on my grandmother’s life during one of the most tumultuous periods in Russian history.

It starts in 1915, with the setting of a farm in western Russia (present-day Ukraine). Lukia Mazurets, a Ukrainian farmwife is about to give birth to her eighth child while her husband’s in a nearby city, volunteering to fight for the Tsar. Soon after, she and her children are forced to flee the invading Germans. Over the next fourteen years, Lukia must rely on her wits and faith to survive life in a refugee camp, the ravages of a typhus epidemic, the Bolshevik revolution, unimaginable losses, and one daughter’s forbidden love.

I feel this is a universal story, one that captures the struggle and resilience of many women whose men are away fighting. In a way, it’s a war story about those who are not directly in battle. This family saga also shows why people choose to emigrate. No one leaves their land of birth unless it no longer holds any future for them.

As listed on my book cover, Sunflowers Under Fire is a heartbreakingly intimate novel that illuminates the strength of the human spirit. 




4Q: I’ve recently ordered your second novel – The Rubber Fence – and anxiously await its arrival. Tell me what to expect.



DS: Thank you, Allan. That’s good to hear. My second book was inspired by my work on a psychiatric ward in 1972. I was a newly graduated social worker, trained in family therapy ( a relatively new therapy back then) and my first job was on a psychiatric ward, where they were doing shock treatment. I lasted only 9 months and had to leave because I didn’t agree with some of the approaches used to help the mentally ill.

I took those feelings and experiences and created the character, Dr. Joanna Bereza, who becomes obsessed with the treatment of two of her patients: a mute young mother and an old woman who’s been shocked many times. Because Joanna is an intern, she’s supervised by an arrogant psychiatrist, Dr. Myron Eisenstadt, who’s an expert in depression and has his own ideas about the value of ECT, electro-convulsive therapy. Because of her obsession, Joanna is blinded to problems at home with her husband. This leads to further complications involving another intern, who looks more like a rock star than an aspiring shrink.

The story shows that the people who treat are sometimes as stuck in their relationships as the people who end up in their care. The Rubber Fence also illustrates that when it comes to helping the mentally ill, there is no easy answer.





4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.



DS: When writing Sunflowers Under Fire, I thought often of my grandmother, who shared a bedroom with me until I was fifteen. She never talked to me about her life in the old country. She was a quiet and loving person, whose history was buried deep. I took the bus with her regularly to church on Sundays, and we’d sit in one of the front pews of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox church in Winnipeg, and I’d help her up and down from the kneeling bench. I also took her to the doctor’s and would translate for her as she spoke little English. I felt her warm and comforting presence, but I didn’t really know her.


Now that I’ve discovered her journey, I think of her silence about the past as similar to the silence of men and women who’ve gone through war and come home keeping private whatever they saw, heard, and felt. To talk about what had happened would make them relive that which they had buried. 

One reader told me that Lukia Mazurets was her new heroine. I wish my baba was still alive so that I could tell her that she is now inspiring others.





4Q: Most authors have a “special place” where they feel most creative. Where’s yours? Tell us about your writing habits.



DS: This is an excellent question. I am lucky I have an office of my own in our home. As for where I feel most creative, I have no “special place”. An idea can hit me at any time anywhere about a story I’m working on or an idea for a new one.

Being retired, I can pretty well write any time of day. I try to write every day, it seems my soul demands it. I like to get to my computer first thing in the morning. My habits though are haphazard, and I can get distracted by the news and social media. It’s an area I’m working on.





4Q: Anything else you would like to add?



DS: I love hearing from readers. This is one of the joys of writing. When I know I’ve touched someone or they tell me they’ve enjoyed my story, I feel so grateful. Writing is a lonely occupation not that I’m ‘lonely’. I love putting words together on a page. But as a writer, I am alone much of the time, so to get any kind of response from readers is always welcomed.

Thank you so much Allan for inviting me to participate once again on your wonderful blog. 


It's our pleasure having you as our guest Diana. I enjoyed this excerpt and am looking forward to reading your stories.




An Excerpt from Sunflowers Under Fire.
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)



Duty Calls 




AUGUST 5, 1915, started out like any other day. The sounds of war echoed in the distance, but on the farmlands surrounding the village of Kivertsi in Volhynia, life went on as usual. That comforted Lukia Mazurets, who asked nothing of life except the means to feed and shelter her growing family. She looked out her farmhouse window at the field of grain swaying in the wind, a scene so gentle it was hard to believe that if the war moved any closer, men’s blood would be spilled on the soil.

She then peered down the dirt road leading to the main artery. No sign of Gregory. She’d hoped her husband would give up his foolishness and return from Lutsk, but the only movement was the dust swirling above the road.

A sharp labour pain forced her to grab hold of the windowsill. She gritted her teeth and breathed deeply until the agony in her lower abdomen had passed. The pains were coming more quickly. Lukia realized she could wait no longer.

She rolled up the sleeves of her housedress and twisted her long hair into a topknot before putting the kettle on the hot cast-iron plate. Then she spread a half dozen burlap bags on the floor of the komorra, where she kept cucumbers, sauerkraut, potatoes, and carrots. The smell of the fermenting cabbage soothed her, but not enough to combat the sharp aches or sq uash her anger.

Photo credit - Mais Bah Tche
Why in hell had Gregory chosen this time to go to the city? It was a half hour ride away by horse. He knew she could deliver at any moment. Groaning, she pushed her frustration aside and placed a goose-feather pillow at the head of the burlap row, and beside it, a sterilized knife on a tea towel and an old sheet. Satisfied with her arrangement, she crossed herself three times, each time saying, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” She clasped her hands. “Please God, make this one strong.” Her first baby had died shortly after childbirth. Her last one had managed to live only six months. The five they had now were strong, but if this one died she would insist on no more pregnancies. Her heart wouldn’t be able to take it. Besides, she was forty, not an age to keep having children. Nor an age to birth them by herself.

Yet here she was alone. Hania, her eldest at thirteen, had gone with her two younger brothers to a nearby farm to sell eggs. The older boys, Egnat and Ivan, were in the fields with neighbours, who’d offered to help cut their barley, wheat, and oats. She couldn’t even call on her mother or her sisters. Her mother lived with Lukia’s brother Pavlo in the Carpathian Mountains and was probably out on the road in that district, curing the sick with her herbs.

Panashka, the one sister that lived close by, had her own troubles with an alcoholic husband who spoke with his fists. Lukia didn’t think he’d be too happy to have his wife leave their home to help her sister. Not if it meant he wouldn’t have supper waiting for him when he came into the house after working all day in the fields. Besides, even if Panashka could help, it would take Egnat too long to deliver a message that his mother was in labour. His aunt lived on a farm near Kovel, about three and a half hours away by horse.

The more Lukia thought about the possible risk to herself and the baby, the more she realized she should’ve asked Hania to stay home, at least until her father got back. But she’d been too upset with Gregory to think straight. Well, there was nothing she could do about it now but pray for the best.

The next pain radiated around to her back, reminding her she’d forgotten one last thing. She went to the kitchen cupboard and got a clean rag and a bottle of horilka. She poured a little of the homebrew into a saucer then soaked one end of the cloth in the alcohol. Clutching the rag, she made her way back to the komorra, lifted up her skirt and lay down on the burlap bags. The sharp taste of the vodka-soaked cloth dulled the pain as she pushed in concert with the baby’s momentum.

She lost track of how long she lay there, hollering with each push, praying the baby would slide out easily. This one was larger than the others, but thankfully her hips had widened through birthing seven. She put her hand between her legs and, after a few more thrusts, felt the moist crown of her infant’s head. “Almost here,” she mumbled.

She braced herself and yelled with one final push. Her baby slid out, slippery and shiny with streaks of blood and white fluid. Lukia looked between her infant’s legs and laughed. “I expected a boy.” Then, holding her daughter with one hand, she used the other to cut the umbilical cord. Shortly after, her baby howled. When her greyish skin turned pink with the first cry, relief surged through Lukia like water rushing through a broken dam.

The horrific labour pains were soon forgotten as she watched her baby suck greedily. Even her anger at her husband seeped away. Shivering, Lukia reached for the sheet to cover herself. She gazed at her daughter’s face and whispered, “Eudokia,” a name she’d always loved.



After a nap with Eudokia, Lukia placed another clean cloth between her legs to stem the bleeding and went to the kitchen to prepare supper. She was stirring cabbage with tomatoes on the stove when she heard the front door creak. She turned to see Gregory standing in the doorway wearing a soldier’s uniform.

Her worst fears had come true.

Lukia choked back tears and showed her back, but not before she saw Gregory’s eyes widen with the discovery that she was no longer with child. Her legs felt rooted in cement while she waited for an apology. None came. He stood for a few minutes, as if he too was waiting for some word, and then went into their bedroom, where Eudokia lay sleeping.

Gnashing her teeth, Lukia stirred the vegetables with force. She tried to calm herself to avoid spilling any precious food. Not long after, Gregory returned to the main room. As if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, he came up behind her and fondled her breasts. She whirled around and pushed him so hard he stumbled on the uneven clay floor.

“What?” he said, grabbing the top of the spindle chair to keep from falling. “You have a beautiful girl and you’re angry?”

“What’s this?” She poked his khaki shirt.

He stretched out his arms and twirled around, showing off his new uniform. “I look handsome, yes?”

For a moment, she admired his fine figure in a tunic, breeches and leather boots, but once she saw the peaked cap in his hand, her fury rose like smoke from a dying fire. The badge on his cap displayed the Romanov colours of black, white, and orange.







He grinned. “They also gave me a greatcoat, a knapsack, and a rifle.”

“What’s it to me?”

“Don’t say that. The Germans and Austrians are already advancing on Warsaw. Lutsk could be next.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“Frown all you like, but I promised the Tsar and Tsarina I’d help fight these devils.”

She spat. “The hell with the Tsar and Tsarina! You promised me first.”

“What are you saying?”

When we got married,” she said, arching her eyebrows, “the priest said we were one flesh, and now you want to tear us apart? We may have to leave at any moment. We’ll be forced to run.”

“If we win this battle, you won’t have to leave.”

“How do you know? Our army, biggest in the world they say, has been fighting for a year and where has it got us? Nowhere. From what I’ve heard, you’ll be lucky to be fed.” She shook her head.

He tightened his lips. “Stop shaking your head. You only make matters worse.”

“And what are you going to do, speak Russian?”

“The Tsar isn’t stopping us from speaking Ukrainian anymore.”

“Oh, he’s had a change of heart, has he?” She waved her fork at him. “It’s probably because he needs Ukrainians to do his dirty work. Well, I spit on the Tsar. We’re nothing to him.”

“Lukia—”

“And what if you get killed?” She put her left hand on her chest to ease the pounding.

Gregory’s brow furrowed. “I’ll be safe. You’ll be safe, too. The government is organizing shelter and food for refugees.”

“Ha. As if they could organize anything.” She checked the cabbage, found it tender, and took the pot off the stove.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be sent somewhere with the children.”

“Somewhere,” she said, glaring. “How will you find us?”

“I’ll find you. Don’t worry.”

“Oy, you have an answer for everything. Are you forgetting I just had a baby? You may as well drown me with the family—then you’ll know where to find us.”

“Enough already!” he said, stamping his foot. “I have to pack. They’re sending me to the front.”

“Go then!”

“You want me to leave like that?” His warm brown eyes searched hers, begging her to understand. “I will need your prayers.”

At that, she softened. With a lump in her throat, she said, “I will pray for you and the others.”

“You’re a good woman.”

“If I was so good, you wouldn’t be leaving me.”

“Don’t say.” His eyes glistened with a sadness she hadn’t expected. For a moment, she thought he might change his mind, but then he turned and went into their bedroom to bundle up his things.

She stood in the doorway and watched him pack: tobacco, endpapers, a comb, a mirror, wool socks, and underwear. She wanted to give him reminders of home—of his wife and family—but she had nothing to give. No photos, no keepsakes.

She followed him outside, where he called Egnat and Ivan, who left their implements in the field and came running. When Gregory saw Hania and their two youngest sons coming up the road, returning from selling eggs, he dropped his knapsack on the ground and hugged his children, one by one, telling them to take care of the farm and their mother. Lukia teared up, wondering if this was the last time they’d be together.

While Egnat went to hitch a horse to the wagon, Gregory took Lukia in his arms. She inhaled his sweat and tobacco smell, trying to cement it in her memory so he’d be beside her, no matter what lay ahead.

He stepped back and held her shoulders. “Look at our land. Our rich black earth. This is what we fight for, this is what lasts. We do it for our children and the children that will follow.”



Unharvested stocks stood tall in their half-shorn golden fields, seemingly defying the nearby war threatening their bounty. A black stork glided over the grain as it headed for the woods beyond. The land was what kept their hopes up day after day. There were many times she had picked up a handful of dirt to smell the rich loam and relish its feel as it slipped through her fingers. Gregory was right. They couldn’t afford to lose it.

As if he could read her mind, he said, “Our German settlers were sent to Siberia. Their property was taken away.”

“Of course,” she said. “They’re now the enemy.”

“The Tsar is promising those lands to veterans when they return home.”

“Oy. You can’t believe what the Tsar says.”

“Listen, I also heard that those who don’t fight for our country could lose their farms. What would we do if that happened?”

“And what would I do if I lost you?”

“I’ll be careful.”

She shook her head. How careful could he be, with Germans dropping bombs from the sky? Where could he run if a grenade was thrown?

Her eyes watered again. “Be safe. Go with God.”

He kissed her deeply, his dark moustache bruising her lips one more time. When he let go, her impulse was to grab his jacket and keep him at home. Instead, she stroked his cheek. His eyes fastened on her briefly as if looking longer might keep him from going. Then he picked up his knapsack, climbed into the wagon beside Egnat, and left for Lutsk.









For those of you wanting more information on Diana and her work, please follow these links.




Instagram: @diana.stevan











Thank you, Diana, for being our guest once more. Wishing you continued success with your writing. 
As always, I want to thank you, dear reader, for visiting. Please leave a comment.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Misconceptions - A Short Story by Allan Hudson





A new short story by Allan Hudson (Yep, that’s me!)




I’ve been sitting on this short story for a while but I wanted to share it with you this week. I hope you’ll leave a comment below and let me know what you think of it.





Misconceptions
(Copyright owned by the Author)

They removed his thumbs the day before his rendezvous with death. His hands are bandaged up to his wrists, cocoons of tight white gauze. Given he could probably defuse the bomb with eight fingers, it doesn't matter. His grandmother helps him strap the explosives to his torso. The dynamite is old; crystals form along the upper ridge. Chances are slim that it could explode prematurely, yet it remains dangerous to work with. Although neither is nervous, they handle it carefully, committed to what must be done. Six tubes, eight inches long, one and a quarter inch in diameter, are ensconced in a light canvas vest, the front of which is being sewn together. It won’t fall off, nor can it be taken off. She pulls the stitches tight. She does it correctly because if not, the dark hooded man watching her will kill them both. She speaks to her grandson. Not with words but with damp trails along her wrinkled cheeks. The glistening of his eyes is the only response.

*

Photo Credit: Agus Dietrich - Unsplash
          When he arrived in Canada, his passport proclaimed him to be a British subject. It also bragged of extensive travel, with many stamps filling the worn pages. The plane he had arrived on was an Air Canada Boeing 747 from Singapore. He had flown economy. His last days on the planet were not meant to be luxurious. A beaten leather satchel he carried had all the trimmings needed by a freelance journalist, both digital and tech-free. He told the people at customs he was in Vancouver to cover the leaking oil tanker in the Puget Sound, which had run aground three days earlier. The lady inspecting his bag was outraged at the damage the leaking oil would do to the environment, encouraging him to point the finger at the oil company. Everything was in order, all his papers, his credentials, his reservations. Like his passport, the documents he presented were the best forgeries a deep wallet could find. His first name is Joseph.
          He’d trained for this for four weeks. The events within the target city were explained to him. The grounds where he would be stationed. He’d perfected his English. He’d studied topographical maps of the surrounding terrain, vehicle and pedestrian traffic patterns, charts and diagrams. He’d rehearsed fitting the vest, knew the blast radius and the damage it would inflict. Special attention was paid to the fact that the dynamite they would be using was not fresh. Stolen from an open-pit coal mine that has been closed for over a year, the explosives are at least two years old. The sticks have a weight strength of forty per cent, meaning they are forty parts nitroglycerine and sixty parts dope. Extremely powerful. Precautions must be followed. Most importantly, he had been drilled on the consequences of not doing it properly. An underlying threat.
Photo Credit : Propagandaguard.com.
          Many hours of each day were for indoctrination: why he was doing this; who he was doing it for; understanding he was born for this purpose, fortunate to be called forth by a higher power. Overcoming his fears. Promises of eternal happiness. His name will live forever in the history of his people. There was no turning back.
          The discipline restored many memories of why he was chosen. When his parents died, he was fourteen years old, left to fend for himself. His only living relative, his father’s mother, lived thousands of miles away. No means of support, living day to day, feeding on scraps or what he could find in other people’s waste. Disillusioned, he sought answers from a persuasive man, someone wearing the mantle of a holy person. He believes that what he’s doing is right.
         
          His rooms in the city had been booked for two weeks to cover his tracks. Upon arrival, he tore up the forged papers and buried them deep in a dumpster. A locker at the bus station contained a new identity, that of a Canadian citizen – a reporter for a Toronto daily. These documents were equally well crafted. His first name is still Joseph.
          The next morning he took the bus to the largest city east of Vancouver. An apartment awaited him. There he found food, money, western clothing, maps, and a canvas vest with six empty pockets. His grandmother, his only living relative, would join him two days before he walked to the target. His superiors had arranged for her arrival. If he messed up, she wouldn’t be going back. The armourer would arrive in the morning and place the explosives, then witness the sewing of the vest. When he was satisfied he would arm the explosives. Joseph would have to be at the designated site no later than five o'clock that afternoon. The crowd would be at its peak then.


          Going over the checklist embedded in his memory, he follows his instructions carefully. He eats every meal at a different restaurant or café. According to his trainers, there should be no pattern to his movements. Four times he walked the same route. Remaining discreetly for a few events, he studied the people.  The first walk was tentative, having never been in the city before. Each time, he looked for potential barriers or obstructions. At different times of the day he ventured out on his forays. Warned against drawing attention to himself, sometimes he lingered amid the masses. Felt sorry for the children. The timing each day differed by less than ten minutes. Except once. The fourth day he walked an extra forty-five minutes and found a location far superior for his own intentions. Thinking of his principals, he knew this new location would cause more damage. Deciding to give himself an extra hour, he planned to leave the apartment at three-fifteen the day of the attack. He swore to himself to keep this a secret, vowing to not even tell his grandmother. She’d understand.
          All the fears and moments of uncertainty he’d accumulated prior to the discovery of the different location shrivelled like snowflakes on wet ground. He no longer felt anxiety over his superior’s objectives. He accepted his fate; he would give his life to send a true message to the world. Remembering the discussion on blast damage to the crowd, he knew his body would be obliterated. No one would ever know who he was. The day before his grandmother was to arrive, he left the apartment. He had to be careful because without a doubt he was being watched. In a café, he wrote a letter to the local daily, addressed to the editor. Intentionally leaving his fingerprints on the paper, he mailed it from the shopping center later in the day, forty-eight hours before the event. This was not part of the instructions he had received. He slept. He prayed. He envisioned the aftermath, an imagined glory in his name.
          He lost his thumbs. He waited.
*        

            Until today.

            Drugs reduce the pain in his hands to only a throbbing reminder.



          The dynamite presses uncomfortably against his ribs and he grunts when his grandmother tugs at the heavy yarn. When she ties off the last knot, she is roughly pushed aside by the shadow whose deep voice chills both their hearts. Following a close inspection, he gives his approval by securing the detonators and clock and connecting the wires. He never looks them in the eyes. His very presence silences them, humbles them, scares them. They do exactly as they’re told. He locks the mechanism in place. Backing off with folded arms, he points to the oversized coat, the mitts, scarf and hat.
          The grandmother gently moves the sleeves over the patched up limbs, securing the heavy coat around his shoulders. Although it’s a size too big, it fits tightly in the front when she buttons it over his deadly potbelly. They look each other in the eye as she slides the four-fingered hands into the large mitts. Wrapping the scarf around his neck and placing the hat on his head, she rubs her hand along his cheek to hold his chin in her hand. Gazing at her grandson, she hugs him tightly. She had brought him up; she knows the type of man he’s become. A huge hand interrupts her thoughts, pulling her away. Not so rough this time, he sees the melancholy in her eyes. He opens the door to the safe house, and a whirl of loose snow sweeps through the door. Pointing to the portal, his voice is lighter, proud.
          “Your destiny awaits.”
          Joseph walks past the department stores, office buildings, high rises, apartment complexes, the frozen alleyways, smiling at everyone he meets. Avoiding crowded sidewalks, he sometimes has to alter his route slightly, worried he’d be jostled about or accidentally knocked to the ground. He obeys the walk signals. His pace is even and pre-planned. The ceremonies will be half over by the time he arrives; thousands of people will be outdoors. Clear skies guarantee a capacity crowd. The Olympic Games had ended that morning. The closing ceremony is the most attended event, peaking at five o’clock. His planners knew where to place him and how to bypass security. There is nothing to spoil his detour to the new location. There’s a lot of uphill walking to where he’s going. By the time he reaches his target he’s winded and relieved to be seated. No one has paid attention to him. All he has to do is wait. It’s four forty-five.


Photo Credit: Caitlin Wynne - Unsplash

*
CBC News
Six O’clock Edition
“Reporter Isabelle Crockett is live at Mount Hannah.”
Crockett’s voice over describes the blast area, with live video feed from a police helicopter. Bright beams focus on a gash in the earth, treetops burning, smoke and dust swirling in the updraft.
“The devastation from an unknown explosion devastated the northern peak of Mount Hannah, shattering huge rocks, uprooting trees, creating an avalanche of shattered stones that cascaded into the forested foothill. Treetops and brush are burning from the intense heat of the eruption. Officials are perplexed as to what may have caused the explosion.”
The helicopter sweeps to the south, where crowds have torn down barriers in their rush to safety. The crowd has thinned, with onlookers gathered in knots about the perimeter. The parking lot is filled with fire trucks, police cars, ambulances. Flashing lights add a rainbow to the chaos.
“Television footage from the closing ceremonies is being analyzed at this moment. The main consensus is that it was fortunate the blast did not occur on the southern side of the mountain where hundreds of people would have perished. Other than superficial injuries from flying rock fragments, there have been no deaths reported. It’s too early to tell….”
*
          The shrouded man enters the safe house using the only key. He’d been warned of the possibility, and the grandmother must die. Doing old people is a chore he dislikes. He hesitates when he hears a voice from the TV entertaining the empty room, a news channel reporting what people are saying about the bombing. The announcer speaks of terrorism. The only light is a sliver under one of the bedroom doors. When he calls out to the grandmother, she doesn’t answer. Cautious now, he removes a dagger from his belt. Creeping to each door, he scans the inner darkness. Easing the door to the lighted room open, he’s not surprised by what he sees.
          Curled in a fetal position upon the bed, the old woman has a black and white photo of a child clenched in her puny fist, perhaps it’s her grandson. A long black dress is wrapped tightly about her legs. Eyes closed, her brow is smooth and relaxed. Her skin is pale in the garish overhead light. Most notably, a slight smile is frozen on her withered face. When he reaches over to feel for a pulse, he already knows what he’ll find. Confirming that she’s dead, he’s relieved.
          The front door remains unlocked when he leaves. Someone will find her. They won’t know who she is. The autopsy will explain how she died, but not why.
*
          Forty-two hours after the explosion, a technician is fingerprinting the editor of the city’s daily. He has just handed the letter to a detective, who holds it with tweezers. He turns it towards the desk lamp. There is no salutation. No date. Only the stamp from the post office on the envelope attests to the time frame in which it had been sent. The printing is imprecise, wobbly like an elderly person, or someone extremely nervous. The wording is simple, punctilious.
I died on the top of Mount Hannah.
I was not meant to die alone.
I am not a murderer.

We are not all alike.
We are not all mass killers.


The End.





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