Saturday, 8 October 2022

Foundation ...


William Kennet, 'Sailor Bill' to his friends, stood outside his large tent overlooking the village of Naramata drinking his morning coffee.  He could hear his two daughters kicking up a mild fuss at his wife Sheila-Anne inside the tent, wanting griddle cakes for breakfast down at the Arawana Hotel.  Myrna and Clara didn't like porridge no matter how much brown sugar and sweet cream was on it.  The hotel dining room served fat and fluffy griddle cakes with butter and fruit syrups from blueberry to cherry to smother them with.

Their stubbornness made him smile.  They knew what they wanted and refused to settle for less.

Stubbornness was a sign of will, and will had got him where he wanted to be in life, and at that moment building a new house in Arawana was where he wanted to be.  The south Okanagan region with its acres of fruit trees and vegetables would be a goldmine for his transportation company, and the larger towns providing new customers for his other enterprises.

Three events brought him from Vancouver to the Okanagan Valley. The first was the reliable Southern Trans-Provincial Highway from Vancouver to Alberta, that skirted the south point of the valley.  The second was the recent availability of gas powered refrigeration units for his trucks.  The third, and most damning, was the 21st Amendment, repealing the Volstead Act and making liquor sales once again legal in the United States.  Sailor Bill had made his early wealth running Canadian Club whiskey south of the border in swift, three masted sloops.  But that ended on December 5th, 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the end of prohibition.  Like most rum-runners, Kennet knew the end of that gravy train was coming and invested in a new form of transporting goods; refrigerated cargo trucks buying produce cheap in far flung areas and delivering it to his Vancouver warehouse as fresh as the day it was picked.  The abundance of fruit and vegetables grown in the Okanagan made it a land of opportunity.

The Okanagan was a place begging to be staked, and drive his stake into its heart, he would.  Like he planted his stake in Vancouver long ago as a wayward delinquent, rallying Irish and French orphans around him to form the Beatty Street Boys.  They committed robberies and break-ins and thought they were rich because of it.  But when he saw prohibition begin, he knew selling booze bought legal in Canada and sold illegally across the border was the way to go.

He and the few boys from Beatty Street who followed him, started with a stolen and repainted twenty foot dory, rowing it across Boundary Bay in the dead of night from White Rock to Blaine.  It wasn't long before – by reinvesting their profits – they were sailing a single-masted sloop from Vancouver to Bellingham, then a two-master, then three, and soon a small fleet.  During those years he grew wealthy and powerful, meeting Sheila-Anne and producing his girls, making life complete.  But the tide had turned for Sailor Bill in 1933, so he turned his eyes from the sea to landward, and ultimately the Okanagan.  Here he would put down roots and grow his empire even further.

"You seein' dat, Bill?"

Kennet pulled his gaze away from the lake.  It was his main man and bodyguard Serge Chéret standing nearby pointing at something up the hill.  Kennet looked and watched a cowboy on horseback leading a blond pony toward Arawana Road emerging from Main Street in the town above them.

"Dey got cowboys, 'ere?" Chéret chuckled.

"No, Serge.  I think that's their Chief of Police."

"Don't got no Chief.  They Provincials like da rest."

"I know.  But people still call him Chief."

Chéret hocked and spat on the ground, following the mounted man with his eyes, "He don' look so tough."

Kennet smiled at Chéret.  His man was half French and half negro, a large and capable mulatto he'd put up against any man.  Chéret had fists of iron and handled the straight razor he kept in his pocket like a surgeon.  Now always decked out in the finest suits and hats, he was one of the original rough Beatty Street Boys who was dedicated to Kennet and had saved his life more times than Kennet could remember.

"We'll see." Kennet said, "We don't go looking for trouble up here, Serge.  Kennet Transportation Company is a legitimate trucking company and that's what we want everyone to believe.  We play it friendly until we're pushed."

"Den we push back." Serge said.

"Yes.  Only then."  Kennet said, turning his gaze on Joe Morelli's crew working in the excavation for his new home, "But now we need to ask around.  Get to know this copper before we meet him."

Chéret hocked and spat again at the thought of asking around about a flatfoot.

"And stop doing that, Serge." Kennet said as he walked toward the excavation, "It makes you seem crude and uncultured."

The breeze climbing up the hill brought the earthy scent of the lake with it and ruffled Kennet's hair as he made his way toward the building site of his new home.  He missed the salt rich winds coming off the sea in his smuggler days, but did like the quiet of the small Okanagan town.

"Mister Morelli." Kennet called as he neared, Morelli lifting his head from the foundation he was creating; gluing large, glacial till stones together with thick mortar, assembling the round rocks into a perfectly level and squared foundation for the house to come.

He and his crew had reached ground level from the pit labourers had dug under his direction, including pony walls that would support the load-bearing walls above.  The spaces between and around the stone walls would be backfilled and tamped to pack them tight, anchoring the house that would stand above the silt cliff that edged his property to the West.

"Yes, Mister Kennet?" Morelli set down his trowel and climbed up out of the excavation.

"How is it coming?"

"We'll have the crawlspace walls finished by the end of the week and start on the chimneys and fireplaces while the walls cure.  You can schedule your carpenters to start in ten days."

"So, ahead of schedule."

"Yes, sir."

"Good.  That's good." Kennet said, admiring the man's craftsmanship, and appreciating that his crew kept working hard even though their boss' back was turned, "I know you live on the other side of the lake, but what can you tell me about the policeman people call Chief over here."

"Detective Corporal Brigham?"

"Is that his name?  Brigham?"

"Yes."

"What's he like?"

Morelli shrugged, "I've never met him, but people seem to like him.  I've heard he's a tough one.  A man criminals don't like to mess with."

"Lays down the law with a heavy hand?"

"Yes, sir.  People say he lives up to his name."

"Brigham?"

"No, his first name." Morelli squinted at Kennet, backlit by the morning sun, "Devil."

"Devil." Kennet repeated, "Good to know.  Thank you Mister Morelli."

As Morelli climbed back down to his work, Kennet looked back up the hill but the cowboy was gone.

"Devil." Kennet whispered, "I guess we'll see."


"Crimes Would Pardon'd Be"


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Vory v zakone


 In the time of the Russian Tsars, Vorovskoy mir (Thieve's World) existed as a massive criminal organization in Russia.  During the Soviet era, when Stalin and others sought to eradicate the Russian "mayfia", the Vorovskoy mir leadership saw the writing on the wall and began a transition toward Vory v zakone (Thieve's in law), manipulating the bureaucratic communist system of government to have organized criminal leaders placed in high positions of authority.

It was during the era of Perestroika led by Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost (openness) policy reform that Vory v zakone reached for its highest power, a power that still exists today.


In 1987, while visiting Russia, ex-MI6 espionage officer David John Moore Cornwell (John le Carré ) reported that Gorbachev had issued a secret edict "... which sanctioned the privatization of the Soviet Communist Party and opened the door to the free-for-all scramble for State assets that turned post Communist Russia into a criminalized society".  This saw the emergence of the Russian Oligarchs.


Between 2000 and 2004, Vladimir Putin engaged with many oligarchs, reaching a "grand bargain" with them. This bargain allowed the oligarchs to maintain their powers, in exchange for their explicit support and alignment with Putin's government.


This is Putin of 2022; a grandmaster of Vory v zakone, a criminal leader of hundreds of ultra rich mob bosses overseeing hundreds-of-thousands of criminals who carry out voter fraud; propaganda campaigns; assassinations of their enemies both inside and outside Russia; illegal disruptions of other countries both through physical attacks and cybercrimes; and the attempted absorption of Ukraine for its vast resources and strategic position in eastern Europe.


Russia is a criminal state led by a criminal despot who cares nothing about the liberty, wellbeing, or rights of his own citizens nor those of any other country, who's sole aim is to rape the environment to increase and maintain his own wealth and absolute power.


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Character Development …

Let’s face it; character driven novels, movies, and television series are more engaging and garner the most emotional investment in the reader or viewer.  Just look at the success of novels like Catcher in the Rye or Merchanter's Luck, movies such as Raging Bull, The Usual Suspects, and television masterpieces like Breaking Bad, Animal Kingdom, Yosemite.  All of them are populated by well-developed characters who each speak with their own unique voice, have their own dreams and desires.  Here’s my method of developing characters for my novels.

Once I cobble together basic age, gender, orientation, occupation, political/religious views I move on to …


Hey, good lookin’ …

I have a mental image of my characters that I pretty much keep to myself.  I may hint at eye or hair colour, or if they have freckles or an overbite, or some other solitary physical description, but other than that I leave them blank.  That way my reader can flesh out their looks as they see the character.  A reader can come to either love or hate a character easier if that character fits with their perception of cute, evil, lovely, or handsome.


What’s so special about …

When developing a new character I often draw on people I know, usually an amalgam of a number of people mashed together.  For Carrie, the love of Denny’s life in the Gangster series, I created a gentle young woman whom the world treated badly.  Despite this, she had a naive belief that everyone was a good person, and if someone was unkind to her she internalized it as her own failing.  I had set out to create a tragic character that Denny would risk everything for to follow his self-cast role of being the white knight.  In That Dog Don't Bark, I needed a female lead who was a teenaged firecracker, so along came Angel who took no shit from anyone despite her being a hundred pounds soaking wet.


Finding their voice …

I won’t name it, but I recall a television series that sought to cash in on the success of The Walking Dead, by dropping their ensemble into a dangerous world filled with bloodthirsty zombies.  In the pilot episode they trotted out a number of what appeared to be unique characters, but by the end of the pilot they’d lost me because every character spoke with the same voice.  During one phase of my editing for each of my novels, I perform a pass for each character, one at a time, ensuring their speech pattern suits them, uses the same cadence and vernacular.


No one stays the same …

Not only must your main character have a personal arc in their journey, but so too must all your supporting characters.  People evolve over time and so must your characters.  You don't have to supply each of them with a groundbreaking epiphany moment, but each must be affected by the story as it progresses, plot shifts that can strengthen or rattle them, and large events that impact them emotionally.


Non-binary characters ...

I had a discussion on Twitter with a male writer who was afraid to write characters from the LGBTQ+ community.  I asked him if he only wrote about men, he said no, he had female characters as well.  Then what's so daunting about writing a non-binary character?  In Leaving Wonderland there are a number of gay male characters, and one male-to-female transgender character.  I wrote her as I would any other female character, and even included some steamy love scenes when she and the Cis man she loved came together.  I did run some of their dialogue past two trans writers I know and they gave me some solid advice that amounted to 'No trans woman would say it that way', so I made the changes they suggested and it worked.  And here's the thing; it didn't hurt at all.  So don't be afraid to include non-binary characters in your novels.


Let them off the leash ...

Many times I have come to a point in a novel where I'd planned for a character to have specific reaction in response to an event, but when I got there I come to a screeching halt, realizing my well-developed character wouldn't respond the way I'd planned.  I write the scene differently by allowing them to react and behave in a way that suits their nature.  In That Dog Don't Bark, I set out to have Angel be a just another support character, but my main character Jackson fell in love with her – meaning I fell in love with her.  This worked to make the story stronger because – even though the story is told in the first person by Jackson – it is Angel who drives the story forward to its explosive climax.


Cliff hanger or wrapped in a bow ...

There are two ways to end a story; the first it to put a period at the end of the climax of the story, the other is to skip forward in time and tell the tale of where the main character(s) end up.  Cliff hangers are great for short stories, or if you plan a sequel, but I'm a sucker for the 'and-they-lived-happily-ever-after' ending, and most of my novels end this way.  After putting the characters I've come to love and admire through adversity and sometimes a living hell, I feel I owe them that.  Most of my final chapters occur days or months after the climax.  My record was in That Dog Don't Bark; the final chapter occurs 25 years after Jackson and Angel's triumph over the sex slave gang they face off against.


That's my take on character development for a novel, and I only know what I know, so your mileage may vary.


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Thursday, 28 April 2022

Crimes Would Pardon'd Be



The Loathsome Trail

It was an unfavourable path that pulled Devil Brigham and Rascal far outside their jurisdiction, drawn through the winding maze of mountain trails toward an undesired lodestone - a fugitive he didn't want to catch.

Rascal had no opinion on the matter, and just slogged along wherever Devil aimed him.  But Rascal had caught Devil's dour mood like it was a common cold and – uncharacteristic for a stallion – paced along the trails with his head hung low, the iron shoes on his hooves scraping the rocks at times.  He didn't even have the desire to fight Devil to try for the tall grasses that grew on the sides of sunny sections of trail.  Both stallion and rider were sullen and uninspired as they wove through the mountain glens and plateaus, in no hurry to catch up to their prey, even though they could accomplish it in a hour's good gallop.

Rascal missed his barn, his pasture, and the sweet water of his natural spring that burbled up through the split rocks in a copse of trees at home.  He even missed the mixed wolf and dog Chance that shared the Lazy B ranch with him.  But he knew Devil couldn't risk bringing Chance along for this far ride, for she'd surely be tempted to match skill and savagery with her wild kin that Rascal had been smelling and hearing since yesterday morning.  

There was a wolf pack out there paralleling them through the woods.  Rascal knew they were just curious, for no pack – no matter their number – would dare come close to Devil or even Rascal himself.  They feared the rifle that rested in its long leather case under Devil's right leg and the sawed-off shotgun in its holster hanging from Devil's belt.  Rascal had seen what both guns could do to living flesh and it was a horror that most wolves had seen as well.  Rascal also knew that the wolves feared his hooves that could crush a ribcage or skull with a single kick.  Nothing in these mountains frightened Rascal, nor Devil he supposed.

Devil had been tracking the small party for three days and two nights, east from Arawana and up into the high saddles of the Monashee Mountains.  The party they followed were moderately skilled at hiding their trail by avoiding soft soil and trampable grass, but the small pony they had with them wasn't.  Most times the pony's hoof prints told Devil that they were using it as a pack animal, but occasionally its prints were slightly deeper, telling him that during those times his main fugitive was riding atop the packs while the rest walked.

When he ran the bitter difficulties of the dilemma he was waist deep in through his mind, he understood the problem was that the moment he went from being the Arawana Chief of Police to being a Detective Corporal in the British Columbia Provincial Police, his jurisdiction expanded to include the entire province and at the same time his autonomy had shrivelled to a dried-out crust of what it once was.  Where he once was the final arbiter of the application of law in his jurisdiction, he was now just an arm of a large police force whose hierarchy decided who was a criminal and who was not, and he was sworn to pursue the wanted no matter his personal opinion.

This whole sordid episode began with a priest laid up in the Penticton hospital with a gunshot wound in his ample left buttock cheek and the order came down through Constable Bill Brightworth of the Penticton detachment.

Through Brightworth, Detective Sergeant Locke, the head of BCPP's Boundary Division, had set Devil on the trail of the suspects because he was an experienced horseman and tracker, and the runaways had taken to the vast forests to the east of the Okanagan valley.

The trouble was, Devil didn't believe the people Locke had named were responsible for the shooting, especially not the person whose name appeared at the top of the warrant list; William Youngblood - an eleven year old boy who had run from his Residential School to live with his grandfather and cousin off the reservation near Naramata.

Devil understood the boy's desire to escape the Catholic run Residential School he'd been forced to attend, having faced the same cruelty and nonsensical rigid teachings himself during his time at a Catholic orphanage.  Like William, he had escaped in his eleventh year, yet unlike William he had no family to run to, so took his chances on the streets as a petty thief and beggar.  William had the luxury of a family, a powerless one, but family non-the-less.

With Devil, the priests and nuns tried to beat the sin out of him for being born a bastard and branded with a heretical name.  With William they were trying to beat the indian out of him for being born Syilx on the Penticton reserve.  Being an indian was near as not to being illegal, and the federal government had passed laws to turn them all white.

Devil recalled reading a tale of a knight's quest as a youngster that began; 'Beyond seven mountain ranges, beyond seven rivers ...' and later learned that the phrase was an eastern European version of 'Once upon a time'.  But though it felt as though he had followed his quarry over seven mountain ranges and seven rivers, this was no fairytale quest of a knight-errant in search of virtuous adventure, this was a moral crime in Devil's reckoning, and he was ordered to hold to his oath as a lawman and commit it.

"You're kidding." Devil had said when Brightworth had delivered the news.

"I wish I was." Brightworth had said, knowing Devil's nature about laws made to oppress powerless people, but he was firmly pressed into the same mould of obedience as Devil in the Provincial Police.

"Who got shot?"

"Father McClure."

"The fat one."

"Yeah."

"Bald as a boiled onion."

"That's the one."

"I'd like to shoot him in the other cheek." Devil had muttered and Brightworth pretended not to hear.

"So the boy is to be arrested for playing hooky, and his cousin Ruff for shooting the Priest."

"And their Grandfather for aiding and abetting."

"Dammit."

Devil had leaned back in his chair, staring at the wall.

"Ruff didn't shoot that priest.  He's too smart for that."

"You know him?"

"I do.  Run into him a few times.  Ruff's bright and has never broken the law.  His grandpa Jack raised him to follow the white man's law, knowing if it was broken by a Syilx there'd be hell to pay for the whole band."

"You'll need these." Brightworth had said as he set a pair of miniature handcuffs on the desk.

"Are these a joke?  Some kind of novelty?"

"No."  Brightworth had said, lowering his eyes to avoid the shame, "They're child handcuffs for Residential School runaways."

Devil had picked them up and dropped them into a waste bin, keys and all.

"Tell Locke to go fuck himself."

"I'm not going to do that, Devil."

Despite how he felt about the task assigned him, Devil had left Chance with his neighbour and fellow rancher Herb Donaldson, and set out with Rascal to take his time and think the entire situation through before he decided if he was going to arrest an eleven year old for truancy and his teen cousin for attempted murder.

As they rode, Devil tried to render a time that was simpler and filled with a gentle joy.  He still possessing his fresh years then, astride a mare that was obedient and calm.  He wasn't experienced enough for a stallion yet, that mastery wouldn't seep into his nature for a few years yet.

Young Devil's segmented fishing pole was tucked safely in the empty rifle case under his leg, a small creel holding his rigging and reel hanging from his belt where one day would hang a sawed-off shotgun.  The frying pan that hung from the saddle horn tapped a regular rhythm that marked time on their way to Devil's favourite spot above the Lazy B.  

Once there the mare set to exploring and sampling the exotic grasses of the meadow as Devil teased a brown trout out of a pond.  Then the trout fried until the skin was crisp as a potato chip and the bright meat was dulled to the soft pink of bubble gum.

But that was another time.  A time before the war and the horror and blood while he was still learning his craft as horseman and tracker under the tutelage of Justice Brigham.  Now he was astride a stallion that needed a sharp rider lest he forget his mission and ignore his rider.  The landscape they travelled so different from home, threading through a forest of strangers, far from the ranch and following the trail of a boy, his cousin, his grandpa and a pony.

There was yet another misery that had driven Devil out of Arawana.  He'd been doing his ham-handed best at courting Hattie Mason and had completely buggered it up.

If he was going to be miserable, he might as well do it far from other people.


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Sunday, 27 March 2022

Butch (Little Gangsters) ...

 


“You know Butch?” Frankie asked as we pedalled hard up the alley.

“Errol’s dog?”

“Yeah.  That’s the one.  I love that dog.”

The Peterlichans lived on 8th Avenue halfway between Kevin’s house and Commercial and had one of the coolest dogs in East Vancouver.  Butch was part Spitz, part Husky, part god’s-own-mystery.  And let me tell you; Butch was the mob boss of the dog world in that neighbourhood.  No census taker would be able to calculate how many pups he’d sired because whenever there was a bitch in heat, Butch was first in line.  The other male dogs would part like the Red Sea when he trotted up and they would keep their distance and quietly wait their turn while Butch claimed his latest bride.  None of them messed with Butch.

Butch would sneak off to the alley behind the Buy Rite Market once in awhile and peer through the loading dock door waiting for his opportunity.  When he saw the butcher go into the walk-in cooler, Butch would bolt into the store past the cooler and steal a roast or a porterhouse steak out of the meat display cabinet and tear for home.  Errol’s mom would get a phone call from the butcher telling her that Butch was at it again and sure as hell she’d look out in the backyard and see Butch polishing off a pretty expensive piece of meat and she’d tell the butcher to put it on her bill.

Once, when Errol was eight years old, he was walking home from a friend’s house when a neighbour’s dog – a boxer – got out and attacked him.  Butch came running and scared the boxer off and escorted Errol home.  Errol wasn’t hurt, just pretty scared from the boxer knocking him down and ripping at his clothes.  As soon as Errol was safely back home in his mom’s arms, Butch took off and didn’t come home that night.  Errol was worried sick about his dog and hardly slept all night.  In the morning, Errol went into the backyard and found Butch sleeping under his favourite tree, the thick fur of his bib caked with blood.  Errol screamed for his mom and together they carefully washed Butch’s fur clean of the blood, but they didn’t find any wounds.  The blood wasn’t his.

Some neighbourhood kids found the boxer in the grassy field of the 7th Avenue Park.  His throat had been ripped out.  The boxer’s owner found the pickets on his backyard gate chewed through and the gate half off its hinges.  There must have been one hell of a struggle to mess up a gate that bad.  Errol told me that when he saw the pickets all chewed up he knew it was Butch, because his dad had to replace their picket fence with a wrought iron one to keep Butch in.  He’d always chew through the pickets when he wanted to take himself for a walk or commit his particular crimes of choice.  Near as anyone could figure it, Butch waited until late at night and went down there and dragged the boxer out of his yard and killed him for messing with his kid.  

Given Butch’s talents as a thief and assassin plus his appreciation for vengeance, it was no wonder that Frankie loved that dog.

Frankie skidded to a stop behind Errol’s house and was off his bike before the wheels stopped spinning.  I was hard pressed to keep up with him as he hopped Errol’s back fence and scooted around the side of the house.  Butch was out in the front yard, keeping an eye on his neighbourhood through the wrought iron gate when Frankie and I arrived.  Butch looked at us and decided we were friends and went back to scrutinizing his domain from inside his prison.  Frankie motioned for me to crouch down and we both crawled on our knees and hid behind the bushes by the latched front gate where Butch stood.  Frankie wrapped his arm around Butch's shoulders and gave him a hug.  Butch wagged his tail, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth.

“Hey, Butchie boy.”  Frankie whispered, “You hungry for a snack?” then to me:  “Denny – where’s Kevin.”

I pressed my face close to the wrought iron fence and saw Kevin walking toward us on the other side of the street.  “About three houses away – on the other side.” I reported.

With his other hand, Frankie unlatched the wrought iron gate, but held it closed.  Butch went on alert then; his ears forward, his tongue back inside his mouth, his tail curled over his butt – he knew how gates worked and sweet freedom from that unchewable fence was inches from his nose.  You could see that he was aching to be outside of that gate, his eyes fixed on Frankie’s hand holding the gate shut.  It was eerie the way Butch was in tune with Frankie – it was like a couple of hoodlums in sync with each other, waiting to pull a job.  Butch couldn’t have known the caper, but he was totally willing to participate in whatever Frankie had in mind if it meant he could have even a few moments of freedom.  The tension was killing me as I peeked out every few seconds to report Kevin’s progress to Frankie.  That’s when we heard Errol’s front door open and Beau, Errol’s greaser older brother, came out in his tight cuffed jeans, his Dayton boots, and white t-shirt with a pack of smokes rolled into the left sleeve.

Frankie turned and shushed Beau by pressing a finger to his lips.  Beau looked down at us and Butch, then across the street at Kevin approaching with his big bag of groceries and his fat bandaged fingers.  Beau looked back at Frankie.

“You’re such an asshole, Marrone.” Beau said smirking, then hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and leaned against one of the posts on the front porch to watch the show.

Frankie could see Kevin now, lumbering up the sidewalk on the other side of 8th Avenue.  Frankie was giving Butch a play-by-play;

“That’s the mug, see him Butch?  See that bag he’s got?  That’s from Buy Rite, yer favourite joint.  Here’s the deal, Butchie boy, in a few seconds, I’m going to open the gate and you can make your move, see?”

I swear to god that Butch understood him.  I could feel Butch tensing, lifting and setting his front feet, getting ready and leaning forward.  The scene reminded me of the horses in the starting gate at Hastings Park racetrack, simply known as ‘the track’.

Besides being a degenerate drunk, my dad was also a degenerate gambler.  And because my mom drove cab all day, it left my dad free to go to the track for the afternoon races on Saturdays, but he had to take me.  I was a track-rat, one of the twenty or so offspring of gamblers who went to the track on a regular basis and brought their kids with them.  My dad would give me a couple of bucks and I ran with the track-rat bunch.  We’d pick up discarded tickets and compare them with the tote board.  Once in awhile we’d find a winning ticket that some careless drunk dropped or threw away and share out the winnings.  I spent hours at the track.

I still recall the smells of the horseshit and frying onions and French fries.  And when I close my eyes I can still hear the announcer, calling out; “They’re at the post.” – meaning that all of the horses had been spurred into the starting gate.  That’s when a hush would fall over the crowd and heads would turn to watch.  An alarm bell would ring and the gates would all crash open at once and the horses would bolt outward with the announcer calling; “And there they go!”

I expected a bell to ring when Frankie pushed open that gate and Butch leapt out onto the sidewalk and across the road.  Butch was like a missile aimed right at Kevin, his four feet kicking up dust as he accelerated in a perfect straight line growling and barking at that ginger haired bastard.  If his feet had been made of rubber they would have screeched as Butch accelerated toward his target.  Kevin screamed and dropped his bag of groceries and jumped over a neighbour’s fence.  Butch skidded to a stop and buried himself shoulder deep in the overturned bag of groceries and came out with a long string of wieners that he brought right back through the gate and scooted around into the backyard, not willing to share with anyone.

Frankie pulled the gate closed then he and I rolled behind the bushes and tried to muffle our laughter by clamping our hands over our mouths.  We could hear Kevin cursing as he picked up his groceries and walked toward us.  We couldn’t see Kevin and I’m sure he couldn’t see us, but we could see Beau who lit a cigarette and stared down at Kevin standing outside his front gate.

“Your dog took my wieners.” Kevin complained.

“Yeah?” Beau answered.

“Yeah.”

“Well, I think he’s in the backyard.”  Beau said and smiled, “Why don’t you go get ‘em back, Tinkerbell?”

“Fuck you!” Kevin screamed and stomped off.

“Don’t get fresh, kid.”

“I’m telling my dad.”

“You do that, kid.  He can come by for his ass-whipping anytime.”

“Fuck you.”

“You wish, Tinkerbell.”

Beau watched Kevin disappear down the block, then looked down at us.

“You’re still an asshole, Marrone.”


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Queen Anne and the Geek ...

The rides at the Pacific National Exhibition’s Playland were the main thing that attracted most kids, but for me it was the sideshows.

There were always the assorted oddities, magicians, sword swallowers, fire breathers, all in shows that drew you in and sometimes made you squirm.  Especially the freak shows.  These were people who were physically odd in some way; midgets, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, tattooed ladies, blockheads, and reptile men with chronic skin conditions.  Even as a kid I knew that most of these people were born with handicaps and were trying to make the best of their lives, so the freak shows often made me feel sad.

On the other hand I’d see them backstage amidst their cluster of trailers as they interacted with each other like everyone else; relaxing between shows, talking, laughing, reading the paper, just living regular lives.  They looked like they were a family – not one like mine, but a regular one like Timothy’s, so I wondered who was really lacking; the freaks or people like me.

The penultimate of all the freaks was the Geek.  The Geek was a living horror show and designed to scare the living shit out of you.

See, the way it worked was; You paid your dime to the barker out front and lined up behind a red rope at the foot of a metal staircase that was shrouded by canvas walls painted with creepy depictions of a wild-eyed half-human creature biting the heads off chickens and such.  Then when the barker decided that he’d drawn as many people as he could muster up, he’d lift that red rope and usher you up the stairs with warnings not to get too close to the cage inside and that by paying your dime you released them of all responsibility for your safety and your life itself.

But here’s the thing; there was no way not to get too close to the cage – it was designed that way.  The whole set-up was built inside a trailer with a set of bars running down the length of it.  The bars formed one wall of a narrow corridor that the audience would line up in.  On the other side of the bars on a raised floor was the Geek.

These Geek shows were always dimly lit with creepy coloured bulbs so there was more shadows than light, and the corridor for the audience was so narrow that if the Geek tried to grab you through the bars, you had press your back up against the wall to avoid him.

It was getting late and the rest of the gang had hopped the bus to go home, so Frankie and I headed down the midway and I told him about the Geek and he was up for it.  We paid our dimes and lined up with the rest of the audience and it was pretty popular because the audience grew pretty big pretty fast.  When the barker was satisfied, he came down off his podium and limped over to the red rope and unhooked it.

“Straight up the stairs and turn to the right, folks!  Be sure to stay as far from the bars of the Geek’s cage as you can!” he said ominously, “And remember, you enter at your own risk … the Geek is the most unpredictable wild man ever captured in the jungles of Pau-pau New Guinea!”

So we filed up the stairs with the rest of the audience and entered the Geek’s dark lair.

It was dim inside that trailer and it stunk of sweat and stale body odour and dirty feet.  The Geek’s cage was littered with straw and all manner of ripped up crap, including some half chewed bones and some human skulls that kind of looked real on account of the creepy green lighting.

We all slid down the wall, with our backs against it until we were packed in pretty tight.  Everyone was silent as we waited for the Geek, but as we stood there and our eyes adjusted to the dim light, I realized he was already there.  It was easy to mistake him for a pile of rags because that’s what he was wearing.  But I could see his eyes peering out at us under heavy dark brows.

He sat crouched and huddled in the corner, his arms tucked in against his body and his feet drawn up so his knees almost touched his face.  With his head down, he stared at us under his bushy eyebrows and sat in silence and the tension was crazy – I could feel the hair prickling on the back of my head.

“Where is he?” Frankie whispered to me.  It was then I heard a couple of adults;

“There he is.”

“Where?”

“Right over there.  In the corner.”

“Jesus Christ.” and a gasp.

That’s when the Geek charged us.

He let out an animal shriek and came straight at us, bounding across the cage like a gorilla on all fours.  His eyes were wild, his lips pulled tight across his rotten teeth, the cords on his neck standing out like taut cables.

He threw himself at the bars and I felt the trailer shake from the impact and he reached through the bars as far as he could and almost got ahold of a woman’s arm.

The inside of that trailer became chaos.  People were screaming, yelling, cursing, and running for the exit.  I got jostled pretty bad by adults as they panicked and ran for the doorway, but I stood my ground, pressing my back firm against the wall behind me, my eyes fixed on the Geek.

In the midst of this sudden exodus, I heard Frankie yell; “Fuck this!” and he ran along with the rest of them.  But unlike the rest of the kids and all of the adults who kept running, I saw out of the corner of my eye that he stopped at the doorway and stood aside, looking back at me.

I don’t know why I stayed.  I was as startled as the rest of them by the Geek’s sudden fury and wild attack.  I wasn’t frozen like I had been under the lilacs the day Kevin and his cronies wrecked the Goddess of Speed.  I stayed deliberately and let my fear wash through me.  The Geek rushed me and slammed himself against the bars once more, his arms reaching for me, his hands clawing at me, trying to grab hold of me.  I could feel his fingertips brushing the front of my t-shirt, but I didn’t move and I didn’t look away.

A weird sort of calmness came over me.  It would later happen throughout my life when I faced down truly dangerous people and situations, but this was the first time I felt that way.  I liked the feeling, or actually the lack of feeling.  Fear was gone – completely gone.  So was every other emotion.  I would later learn the word ‘dissociative’ and that’s as close as I can come to describing how I felt – or didn’t feel.  But my mind was sharp and clear as I stood there, which was a contrast to the mental confusion I felt during my episodes.

I stared the Geek down as he shrieked and slavered and strained to push his arm through the bars to be able to reach me.  I stood my ground and after a few more seconds the Geek gave up – I could see the realization in his eyes that he wasn’t going to make me run like the others did.

He calmed down and half crawled, half shuffled back to his corner and hunkered down with his face turned away from me.  It was only then that I stepped away from the wall and walked the length of the trailer to the exit, my right shoulder only inches from the bars.  Frankie was staring at me with wide eyes as I passed him.

“Jesus Christ, Denny”

I just kept walking and as I did I realized one of the reasons I wasn’t scared of the Geek was that he was just a drunk.  I could smell Queen Anne Scotch on his breath as he was screaming at me.

The same shit my dad drank.


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

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