In honor of SAMPLE SUNDAY I’ve decided to post this sample from my hockey/vampire novelette SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME today.
I can tell you a little bit about this novelette. It was originally written to be part of a Canadian vampire anthology ( eVolVe – by Nancy Fitzpatrick). Only Nancy told me it was too long for the book – so I wrote something shorter for the book instead.
Which brings me to SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME – which, as most of you know, is what I call my novelette of vampires, hockey and Canlit that is actually FUN to read. The book was released just last month, with gorgeous cover art by Peter Francis – who is a REALLY talented Nova Scotia artist and is VERY interested in finding a few good paying clients looking for e-book cover art.
Why bother waiting for Sunday???
Sudden Death Overtime
Tuesday night 9pm.
No one noticed quite exactly when the long black bus stole into the parking lot of the Anchor Pub. As far as anyone knew the bus just sort of drifted into the Labrador coastal village of Hope’s End like an unexpected snow flurry.
Things happen that way around here.
Judith Two-Bear leaned her elbows against the wood grain of the unvarnished table top. Her cigarette glowed like a lighthouse’s lonely beacon, bobbing as she nodded three beats behind the music of the static-ridden radio. She’d parked herself at the window seat since dinner time. She liked to watch the world go by from the sanctuary of the town’s only pub.
Several long slow warm beers later she found herself staring vaguely at the names and dates carved and inked into the table top. She knew some of them. She could guess at others and she wondered just who the hell the rest really were. How many lonely souls had made their mark on this table and then just sat here like so many half finished glasses of warm draft beer – just waiting to be swallowed but not quite yet.
Truthfully, she didn’t think of any of this. Not in those exact words, any way. She felt it, perhaps. She breathed it in with the stale pub air. Her loneliness, her growing disappointment and her unvarying boredom were as much a part of her as the blood that sludged through her tired veins. She had lived her life and had nothing but time left to her keeping. She had seen her kids grow up and run away, her lovers grow cold and run away, she had seen life pull up to the curb and wave gaily once or twice before passing her right on by.
Her hands weighed heavy on the scarred pine tabletop. Her knuckles were cracked and leathered like old alligator skin, tattooed with nicotine and age. Her eyes had grown dull and nothing that hinted of girlhood was left to her save a shotgun blast of freckles playing hide-and-seek within the wrinkles and worry-lines that troughed down her cheeks like a memory of tears.
She stared at her flat beer.
The time drifted past the hope of anyone offering to take her home for any other reason but pity. Fergus had said he’d see her here, but so far he hadn’t showed. She believed he’d only told her that to be kind. Fergus was a good man, after all, although he spent far too much time out there on that damned hockey rink with old Sprague.
What did grown men see in the rattle of sticks, the slashing of steel over ice and hockey sweaters worn way beyond funk?
Judith sat there, disinterestedly listening to the soft current of gossip prowling through the pub; folks wondering just where the black bus came from. Perhaps it was a fresh oil rig crew, or perhaps a wandering rock band. Perhaps a pack of tourists, far off course, with their pockets jingling with cartwheels of American silver and the promise of better days.
Judith knew better. No one in their right mind would come to Hope’s End, Labrador where the only thing that kept the town going was the influx of oil rig workers who stopped here between shifts to get drunk and fed and laid; the three weeks of seal hunters who would stop here to get drunk fed and laid; and the occasionally dangled promise of incoming government money. So many promises washed up like waves on the rocky beach, only to be pulled away just as fast.
The lights dimmed as the town generator kicked up a notch.
The last tune on the jukebox crackled out, only to be replaced by a hockey game.
Judith stood up carefully.
Fergus wasn’t coming, she decided. There had never been a hope that he would.
The time passed as slowly as a year of chronic constipation. The television commentator shouted as someone banged the puck home. A few onlookers moaned and some cheered. No one noticed as Judith emptied her glass of warm beer and turned it bottom-up on the table top.
She walked out the front door. It was cold for a January evening. She pulled her shawl about her, holding it close. The shawl was the last gift that Little Jimmy Pinto had given to her before he’d got drunk five months ago and had fallen from the ferry, halfway home to Newfoundland.
He’d washed ashore three days later. The current had carried him to the beach, shrouded in seaweed and picked at by the gulls. There were nights when Judith nightmared over Jimmy Pinto’s tide-swollen memory, the tears drowned in his eyes, a crab picking listlessly at a bit of unfingered ear wax.
Some nights she still dreamed of him – tone deaf and lustily bawling out that old Gordon Lightfoot standard, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, over and over – the only tune he knew straight through. The nightmares were her company these days. She welcomed them as a lonely woman welcomes the nightly visit of a phantom lover.
She had hoped that Fergus would have shown tonight. She had hoped that he would replace her memories with a little actual companionship.
But Fergus wasn’t coming.
Out in the parking lot, Judith drifted closer to the black bus. This close she saw that the windows were painted over. Even the front window, all black. How could a driver see his way through the night?
It might have been one-way glass, she supposed. You could see out, but nobody else could see in. But it looked more like the window glass had been spray painted over. All black, as if something were trying to hide. A part of her wanted to run from the bus and the parking lot but she was too tired to listen.
She leaned over and touched the side of the bus.
She felt a rhythm, like a tide, like a heart beat, throbbing within the strange blackened walls of the vehicle.
Her hand sank inwards into the cold black paint, like she was reaching into a basin of cold black water.
That’s interesting, she thought disinterestedly.
She leaned a little deeper. Something purred, deep within the colour of the bus.
Something purred and something drew her in. She felt it inhaling, her knees buckled slightly. Her skin paled and the paint on the bus darkened.
She could see the grill and headlights grinning at her. She wondered just how that was possible. She was leaning on the side of the bus, nowhere close to the grillwork. She shouldn’t have been able to see it.
She didn’t care.
Fergus wasn’t coming.
She leaned there against the bus, allowing whatever was hiding inside it to drink its fill.
She wasn’t trapped – only comfortable.
The bus door grated open.
Judith drew her hand from the lulling cloy of the paint and freely entered the bus, still dreaming of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The bus door closed behind her. If there was any screaming it was drowned in the lonely swallow of a North Canadian night sinking home. It began to snow, soft fat flakes that promised a hard storm to come. The snowflakes melted and slid across the grinning grillwork of the night-dark bus.
Fergus showed up at the tavern, one hour too late.
Wednesday morning 6am.
Sprague Deacon passed to his right wing who deeked to the left, rolled right and blistered the puck towards the opposing net. The goalkeeper neatly deflected the intended goal, but Sprague would not be stopped, playing forward and leaning hard, pistoning towards the puck like a juggernaut of pure determination. The slice of his blades hissed across the ice as if he’d strapped on a pair of frozen steel blue snakes.
The defensive right wing stood in his way. Sprague watched the blade of the man’s stick scything just inches past his own throat. The referee didn’t whistle the play, perhaps because no contact was made.
Sprague didn’t care one whit. The crowd was a shouting blur. The rink was as wide as a white frozen sea. Fine scars and tracks cut and grooved behind him, crossed and recrossed and crossed out by the Zamboni’s hushing erasure.
I am nothing more than a pair of skates and a stick, Sprague thought.
He nocked his hockey stick a half a notch back, like a gunfighter cocking a notched Colt and he banged the puck home.
The rink chill novocained his teeth into a perma-frozen grin as he shouted himself awake.
Sprague Deacon cracked his eyelids open and let the morning in by slow degrees.
He lay there staring up at the ceiling, counting his breaths. In, out, in, out – he waited until he’d found the perfect rhythm, just a little out of step with the surging Atlantic waves that roared up and laid siege to the beach beyond his house.
He reached a hand behind himself.
The mattress was wet again.
Was this what it came down to? An old man pissing himself?
At least it hadn’t come down to that.
He sat up from the box of the bed that Helen had made him buy her three years before the walls of her own heart crumpled and let the cold in, just three years past. The six year old mattress stank of farts and sleep-spit and fresh stale piss and the tobacco she’d never allowed him to smoke in bed when she was still alive.
He raised his legs, swung them to the edge and let them drop, allowing momentum to carry him to an upright position.
He lit his first cigarette of the morning. He slid his feet into the gum rubbers he kept beside the bed and stomped out, as naked as a newborn. Winter or summer, he’d let the weight of the gumboots lead him down to the beach where he’d stand, breathing in the salt and the roar of the rushing waves, leaning his hands back against his skinny buttless old man hipbones to let an arc of dirty warm lemonade splash free and trickle into the charging waves – not that there was all that much backwater left after fouling his bed but it was the principal of the act that counted.
He’d pee himself dry and then walk to the rink that he’d built behind his house. In the weeks of the summer it was nothing more than a mud hole that he’d rake every Saturday. But through the months of winter when the ice was hard and smooth he’d stand there and grin as he felt the wind tickle his bony old ass.
And then he’d fart a long squeaky foghorn of an old man’s fart.
Nobody would complain.
The waves would wash the beach, not more than a stone’s throw from the rink. The tatters of late ice would drift with the current and might bang up a boat or else it would float loose from the lea of the harbour. The Lazarus seals would drag their heavy gray bodies up onto the cold Labrador granite and grunt and bark at whoever dared wander too close to their beaching ground.
“Ah Chummy-me-son,” Sprague said to himself. “Time is nothing but a wind that blows clean through you. The only thing you catch from it is a goddamn cold that will kill you in the end.”
He should have died years ago, he supposed, even years before Helen had finally let go. It was only hockey and habit and piss-pure stubbornness that kept Sprague Deacon alive and breathing for all these years. He studied the clotting snow that had dusted the rink’s immaculate ice through the night.
He went inside to dress.
That snow wasn’t about to shovel itself.