As those of you folks who regularly follow my blog might know – I am launching a new novella through Kindle Select. It will be available for FREE from September 1st to September 3rd.
The novella is entitled NOT JUST ANY OLD GHOST STORY – and it is a tale of a young man who returns to the Nova Scotia fishing village that he grew up in only to discover that his father has been hiding a mysterious secret.
I’d like to give you folks a sneak peek at the first chapter or so.
NOT JUST ANY OLD GHOST STORY
I have heard an awful lot of stories and I’ve even told a few and nearly every story I’ve ever heard or told was born from my Dad. I guess this one is no different and why should it be? My dad has told me nearly everything I’ve ever learned and twice as much as I’ll ever be able to forget.
And even now I remember it all.
My Dad has told me about snow snakes and mud trout. He has told me how dreams were nothing more than stories waiting to be born. He has told me that the ocean was made out of tears cried by a woman who sits upon the bottom sobbing and shaking so hard that the waves toss and turn in their sharing of her sorrow. He has told me how my home province of Nova Scotia once served as Glooscap’s bed and Prince Edward Island was the pillow for his head.
“But Cape Breton was the old dark fooler’s canoe, you bet,” Dad would tell me. “Hunting or fishing, when Glooscap wanted to get himself anywhere handy to interesting he came right straight up to old Cape Breton Island.”
My Dad has told me how the raven stole the sun from the heart of winter and traded his song to keep it. He has told me how icicles are nothing more than snow angel tears wept down for all of the snowflakes that never reached a child’s out stretched tongue. He claims that the flounder got to be so ugly-faced a fish after losing an ill-planned swimming race with a fast-moving skate.
“That old flounder pulled a face in disgust and it just stayed stuck,” Dad told me. “Believe you me, nothing sticks harder than regret.”
And maybe that’s so.
I mean, just think about it.
We all learn to carry so much unnecessary regret. We drag it around behind ourselves and wear it sewn into the inner lining of our shadow. I think that the heart of every ghost story ever told is awash with the soft faded autumnal color of pure irredeemable regret.
“Why do you tell me so many stories?” I once asked Dad.
“A man is nothing more than the stories he knows,” Dad answered. “And here in Nova Scotia we grow our stories long, rambling and deep. Life isn’t all about cable television, cell phones and newspaper. There are the silences that whisper between the words, those secrets not shared that linger long after any story ever told. Believe you me, mister man, there is a tale to be told for every wave that washes the shores of Nova Scotia.”
This story is one of them, I guess.
Chapter 1 – In Which I Get a Ride
“Get in,” the trucker said, so in I got.
I had been standing here on the side of the road just short of the east most end of the city limits of Toronto, my thumb hooked hopefully into the contrary-minded west wind, just wishing for a ride when that big old semi rig pulled up.
When it hissed to a halt I was halfway lost in a day dream, wander-bound and telling myself a slow quiet sort of nothing-thought story, staring off down the highway and thinking on how absolutely miraculous it was that this single patch of road could tie one end of our country to the other and by nature must touch nearly every other road in North America. It is like my dad always said – bloodstreams and building blocks – a body sometimes wonders just how much of the world is made out of nothing more than it self made big.
So I clambered into the truck before the driver could think to change his mind.
“Strap your self on in,” the trucker told me. “I don’t slow down from here on out.”
The trucker was built big, even sitting down. He was all shoulders and arms looking like he had strength enough to tear that steering wheel off the dashboard and tie it into a forget-me-knot about my gawking neck. He looked like he had been poured out of concrete into the seat of that semi truck and let harden for a while. He reached over and shook my hand clear down to my toe bones. I counted my fingers when he let me have them back again.
They seemed mostly intact.
“Have you been out there long?” he asked.
“Long enough,” I said.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t nearly as terrified of him as I was scared of what might be waiting for me back home in Deeper Harbour. Going back home will do that to a fellow if he has any sense of history or style. Memories will scare you if you think on them hard enough.
“So where are you headed?” the trucker asked me while I was busy strapping myself into the shotgun seat.
“Nova Scotia,” I answered, keeping it simple. Deeper Harbour would have been far more information than he needed to hear. When you are hitching a ride it is best to keep your answers comfortably vague. Facts will only get in your way. The road isn’t a place for conviction or scrupulous detail.
“I’m going that way too,” he allowed. “Halifax.”
“Good,” I said. “That suits me fine.”
I figured I could easily hitch the rest of the way up the Cabot Trail to Deeper Harbour, once I got myself handy to Halifax.
“You got a name?” he asked.
Call me Ishmael was what I thought to myself but “My name’s Tommy,” was what I told him out loud. I had learned a long time ago to keep my literary allusions to myself. What can I tell you? Three years wasted in wading through the study of North American literature, Northrop Frye, and a hefty dose of post-modern deconstructionalistic theory can surely crucify a conversation long before it ever gets started.
“My name is Hank,” the trucker said. He gave me a big piano key grin. I decided I was going to like riding with Hank. He seemed like an okay fellow. Hank was straight-talking, without an ounce of illusion to him
“The women call me Hunk,” he added and I abruptly reversed my previous verdict and prepared to give ear as Hank started to talk.
There is a rule for hitching rides on what ever highway you choose to stand next to. Sooner or later, in one way or another, you’ve got to pay for the gas or listen to it. If the driver wants a story, you’ve got to be ready to give him one and if he wants to tell one than by God you had better be ready to listen.
Hank told me he had women stretched from one end of the country to the other, just lying splay-legged along the side of the Trans-Canada highway, panting and dreaming and waiting for Hank and his eighteen wheels of pure pulsating passion to come rolling on in. He told me that he was a sexual Tarzan, a bull-moose monsoon of testosterone and transport, an internally-combustioned Casanova of diesel-driven delight.
Of course, I am paraphrasing with a little more than a fair degree of poetic license and embellished color. As the great bard will tell you – a story is just not a story without a little blatant hoop-doodlery.
“I’ve got ladies who wait for me night and day,” Hank said. “They are tracking the rumours of my whereabouts, marking the days out like the promise of Christmas on their calendars and inking out my progress with banana-black Sharpee’s and penis-shaped map pins pricked across a communal diagram of the Trans Canada Highway. They call me up on the CB radio to talk dirty to me and they scribble their telephone number in the back of my semi bunk and they leave me love-dewed panty mementos to remember them by.”
Now I knew for a fact that most truckers were too damn busy trying to make up the time on the road and trying to keep the costs down and keep the log book lying just pretty enough to fool anybody who wanted to believe that a man could actually drive from Point A to Point B and make quota time and still remember to catch the legally proscribed proper hours of sleep to bother chasing females.
The truth of the matter as I saw it was Hank was lonely, maybe one of the loneliest men I’d ever met and he needed to tell these stories in order to breathe.
So I let him tell.
I listened just hard enough to follow his drift but I was more interested in a wallet-sized photograph that dangled from the hinge of his sun visor. It was a photograph of a little girl standing in front of a backyard swing. Her hair was the color of prairie wheat and her eyes would have put cornflowers to shame and she wore a sort of a half-hook of a smile that looked to be one part sorrow and one part joy.
“Is that your little girl?” I asked.
We drove a kilometre or two before he answered.
“That’s her,” he said. “Joanie Margaret, she stole my heart and I aided and abetted her in the process.”
Another kilometre clicked on by.
“Divorce?” I asked.
I pronounced the word with a careful politic precision as if I were attempting to slow chew a pre-digested mine field.
“Her mother got tired of my stories,” Hank said. “Especially when she found out that some of them were true. She packed her bags and drove away while I was halfway to Winnipeg. I was driving this semi and she was driving her Volkswagen beetle and there’s probably some kind of irony there that escapes me the same way as she did. She was up and gone and I didn’t find out until I reached Toronto, on my way back home.”
The road continued to roll, not saying a word.
Highways have ears and mouths and can tell you things, believe you me.
“Do you see her often?” I asked.
“Not at all,” he said. “I keep a road map marked with the places that she ain’t been. I show her picture at every truck stop I roll into and so far nobody can tell me where she has got herself to.”
Now we were getting to the truth of things.
I should have felt proud of my self for uncloseting this particular skeleton; however I felt too damn sorry for Hank to crow over my discovery, even internally. We sat there and listened to nothing but the sound of the tires wishing over the road tar, the miles slipping away like water beneath a fast-paddled canoe.
“Reach on back,” he said, so I did. “There is a child’s sweater hiding back there.”
The sweater was folded neatly beside the shelf of his long haul bunk. It was a child’s pale blue cardigan and I imagined I could see his fingerprints tangled through the wool and I was certain that the color had been faded with tears and the intensity of his lonely dome-lit gaze.
“The sweater was supposed to be hers,” he said. “I bought it for her in Winnipeg. She’s probably six years too big to wear it by now but I’m keeping it all the same. I count the stitch knots at night time and it pretty nearly counts me down to sleep.”
Something caught my eye.
A movement in the truck mirror.
I took a quick a glance.
Just for a moment I thought I could see her, standing back there on the roadside with her thumb hooked into the wind, the shadow of a lonely wolf pine leaning down over her, a tire swing spinning wistfully round and around and around.
And then she was gone.
One more damn old ghost story fading away.
So, if that opening chapter is to your liking why don’t you watch for that little novella of mine to turn into a freebie and pick up a copy?
Remember – it is scheduled to be free from September 1 to September 3 – but due to the time differences I am not sure exactly WHEN it will be free tomorrow. Probably mid-morning would be my guess.
I must apologize for some of the Canadian spelling.