Being Taken For A Ride

You may or may not remember that, in the past, I’ve waxed eloquent about my love of heavy machinery, specifically forklifts. I used to think the pinnacle of existence would be to tool around my neighbourhood, rearranging picnic tables, delivering pallets, and rescuing those who had had pallets fall upon them mostly (because my stacking of said pallets wasn’t quite up to snuff because I’M JUST LEARNING). But I’m in my late 50s now and it occurred to me that I might have to give up the forklift fantasy. I was initially very sad, but then something ostensibly even better happened. Our neighbour, small engine mechanic extraordinaire and Ken’s boss (as a retirement gig, he does paperwork and deliveries for the mechanic) messaged to ask if we were interested in the John Deere riding lawnmower that he had just refurbished. INTERESTED?! I didn’t even ask how much money he wanted. I just ordered Ken to text him back immediately before he sold it to some other late-middle-aged agricultural aficionada. Ken and I were, of course, about to embark on our European adventure, so we agreed that we would take possession when we came back, which gave me plenty of time to anticipate the day I would ride the majestic Deere like the gardening guru I longed to be.

So when we got back from holidays, Ken went to work and came home later driving the lawnmower (the mechanic lives directly across the street from us), and I was a little upset because I wanted to be the first to drive it. But I forgave Ken immediately once I saw the shiny green and yellow vision ensconced on the front yard. I was dying to mount it as one would a gallant steed and carve perfect diagonal lines into my lawn; alas, rain was in the forecast for the next few days. But last Monday, it was a glorious morning, the grass was negligibly long, and we were having company, so I begged Ken to back the dear John Deere out of the garden shed where it was being housed. Why didn’t I do it myself, you ask? Because I don’t reverse well. Obviously.

The shiny new-to-me lawnmower was now perfectly positioned, facing the correct way and ready to mow. I hopped on—the seat seemed comfortable. I turned the key, with Ken looking on jealously.

Me (yelling): Holy f*ck! That’s loud!
Ken (yelling back): Do you have any headphones to protect your ears?

I hadn’t thought about that. I turned the machine off and went into the house to source some headphones, which I found tucked away in a drawer. Now, I was REALLY ready to mow. I started the engine again—the sound was nicely muffled. Ken explained how to put it in gear, lower the deck, engage the blades and whatnot, and off I went. Ten minutes later:

Ken: How’s it going?
Me (yelling because I’m wearing noise-cancelling headphones): OH MY GOD, I F*CKING HATE THIS.
Ken: Huh? Why?!

Because our lawn is lumpy and I had just spent the last ten minutes bouncing up and down on a lawnmower seat and the vibrations had caused a histamine reaction in both my butt AND my boobs, and I was so itchy I could barely stand it–that’s why, KEN. Also, I was having difficulty gauging how low-hanging our tree branches were and managed to whack myself in the face numerous times whilst simultaneously knocking my stupid headphones off.

Ken: Oh, is that why you kept screaming? Do you want me to finish the lawn for you?
Me: No, I do not. I’m a grown-ass woman and I will do it.

And I did it. Every minute was torture. The only saving grace is that when I was finished, I got off the demon machine and observed the property. There was a noticeable lack of diagonal lines; in fact, most of the lines were circular and criss-crossed each other haphazardly, but the grass was now a respectable length and everything looked quite pretty.

Ken: Did you want to do the weed-whacking as well?
Me: What do you think, KEN?

And then I went into the house and poured a glass of wine. Yeah, yeah, it was only 11 in the morning but I deserved it. And if Ken ever wants me to mow the lawn again, he’ll have to install a cup holder.

The Cleaner Part Deux

You may remember a few weeks ago, I wrote about how the owner of the antique market where I work had hired a cleaner, and he looked exactly like a ‘cleaner’, which is to say, someone who cleans up after assassins and whatnot. He’s been cleaning one day a week ever since, and he does a very thorough job, almost like he’s used to a VERY DEMANDING CLIENTELE, if you know what I mean. He doesn’t speak much, just the normal good morning, or “where do you keep the Windex” and up until now, I haven’t had any actual conversations with him, which I realized last week was probably a good thing.

I usually take my lunch around 1:30 in the small breakroom we have for staff, and last week, as I was beginning my lunch, The Cleaner was finishing his. I sat down at the table and we exchanged pleasantries. I started eating. And then he started talking:

The Cleaner: So do you think Covid is over?
Me: Huh? Oh. I don’t think so—I know a lot of people are still getting it.
The Cleaner: Do you believe that it was created in a lab overseas by the governments of the world so that they could kill off a lot of the world’s population? Because the world is very overpopulated.
Me (chewing food): Uh…no…
The Cleaner: There’s a large proportion of the world’s population who are old, and this way the government could kill them and then they wouldn’t have to pay them their pensions.
Me: That sounds like a very complicated and strange conspiracy theory.
The Cleaner: It was definitely created by the world’s governments.
Me: I don’t believe that. Anyway, do you think it’s going to rain later?

And while the conversation was bizarre, the weirdest thing was that the whole time he was talking, he was staring out the window, like he was lost in thought and musing, almost wistful. And then he smiled, and he only had four teeth.

In other news, right before Ken and I went away, I needed to buy more underwear, so I went to Winners, a fairly big department store, and wasn’t I thrilled to find not only a 6 pack of really nice underwear but the brand was LUCKY BRAND and every pair has a 4 LEAF CLOVER embroidered on it, so now every day is a lucky day.

And in other, other news, I guess the lucky underwear panned out, because I’ve just accepted the position of ‘Summer Writer-In-Residence’ for our local county library system, dividing my time between four different branches this summer, running writing workshops, hosting guests, and mentoring other writers. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and it really is a dream come true. Thanks, Lucky Brand.

There’s No Place Like Home

As I write this, I’m sitting in the lounge at the Barcelona airport, waiting to board our very long flight home, and reflecting on the last ten days. It’s been a wonderful time all in all, with really too much to capture here, but of course there were the requisite weird things. Here are some highlights:

Vatican City: It was super-crowded but we were supposed to be on a very expensive “Small Group Special Access” tour, which I had assumed meant we’d get some special privileges, like saying Hi to the pope and whatnot. We did not. We saw pretty much everything that all the other tourists saw as they shuffle-stepped shoulder to shoulder through the narrow hallways of the Sistine Chapel. We did get to tour the pope’s gardens—they were gorgeous and there were, randomly, a lot of large turtles. We also got into the Basilica without lining up for 2 hours. And the coolest thing in there was the actual corpse of some guy, an ex-pope I guess, and he was coated in wax to preserve him. Obviously I needed a picture of that—I mean The Birth Of Man is one thing but a preserved corpse?! And the best and weirdest part is the the clear case he’s lying in is BULLETPROOF. Just in case. In case of what, I have no idea. Also, we discovered that you have to read the shore excursion descriptions very carefully. For example, when it says “Gaze in wonder at the Uffizi Art Gallery where the Statue Of David resides”, it means you can look at the Uffizi from the outside but you don’t get to go in. And some of those gazes cost a pretty penny, so we learned to interpret correctly.

We toured France, Spain, and Italy. In France, nobody said anything about crime, but in Spain and Italy, every single person, from the hotel concierge, the tour guides, the bus drivers, and restaurant staff would tell us, “Keep your bag in front of you and put your wallet in your front pocket.” How bad is the pickpocketing situation when the citizens of a country are like, “These are my people but they WILL rob you blind. Trust no one, not even our children.” Strange endorsement. Ken, of course, insisted on keeping his wallet in his back pocket on the grounds that “it had a button flap”. As if that would stop a pickpocket, KEN. So I had to stand behind him all the time, guarding his butt.

Valencia. This is one of the most whack places I’ve ever been to. We took a tour called Valencia: City of Flowers, but there didn’t seem to be any more flowers there than anywhere else in Spain. And not once in the 3-hour tour did our tour guide tell us why Valencia is called that. Although apparently it SHOULD be called the City of Fires because most of the tour was him telling us about this bizarre festival they have every year where people carve giant wooden statues, some 20 storeys tall, some costing $800 000, and then at the end of the festival, THEY SET FIRE TO THEM. One of the guys on our tour asked, “Is it like Burning Man?” and the tour guide said, in a very deadpan way, “No. No, it’s not. Not at all.” Then he took us to a museum full of some of the statues because every year, the statue that’s voted the best one is saved from the fire. And if you’re thinking these statues were like Greek or Roman statues, or even Renaissance style, you’d be wrong because they weren’t and they were TERRIFYING. My particular favourite was the one of the babies all eating each other.

On the way back to the boat, we passed a park, and the tour guide said, “If you look over there, you’ll see a statue of a dog on fire. This park is very nice, for the children to come and play.” And those are two sentences I never thought I would hear back to back.

One of the best things about cruising though is that you see a lot of the same people each day, and sometimes you get to know a couple of them well enough to become friends. That happened to us with a few fellow travelers: Dee and Joe from Buffalo (she talked exactly like Joan Rivers), and Dontae and Lisa who were both in the military and were taking their first vacation in years before being stationed in Tokyo. They were our partners in the wine blending challenge and our concoction, aptly called “Dontae’s Inferno”, took second place and won us bottles of wine. And then there were Glenn and Kanya, two of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the fortune of meeting. We sat together for lunch on an excursion and immediately felt like we’d known them forever. Glenn was a trivia king, but not hardcore like some people, who took the promise of a “life-changing prize” a little too seriously and were severely disappointed when they found out it was a pop socket. The running joke became that our trivia team was called “Glenn From Vancouver” because, despite the fact that he was clearly Australian, Ken mistakenly introduced him to Dontae and Lisa as Glenn from Vancouver much to everyone’s delight. I hope we see them again one day. But for now, it’s good to be home. I know Atlas missed us–well at least one of us:

Me: Hey Buddy, we’re back!
Atlas: Daddy!!
Me: I really missed you. Did you miss me?
Atlas: Meh. DADDY!!!!

Still, it’s good to know that we can leave him in the care of our dogsitter (as well as my parents and our neighbours who helped out as well), and he’s not traumatized. And now the only thing I need to do is get over the jetlag…

I’m On A Boat

So Ken and I are on our first real vacation since before covid. Three years ago, it was our 30th anniversary and we’d booked a cruise to the Baltics. It had always been my dream to see the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, but all of that got canceled, and considering current events, I doubt we’ll ever be going to Russia before I die. So three years later, here we are doing a Mediterranean cruise with stops in France, Italy, and Spain. Notice the Oxford comma there? I’m obliged to point it out because recently Ken had a pretty brutal argument with some graveyard monument people when he insisted that his father’s grave marker should read Beloved Father of Ken, Karen, and Bruce because the monument people don’t like the Oxford comma and wanted to give the impression that Ken’s siblings were actually a couple, like “Ken, Karen and Bruce”. An argument ensued but Ken was triumphant after the funeral lady just muttered “Whatever. It’s your funeral.” Anyway, we’re now on vacation and I’m trying to write this on my phone with limited wifi so excuse the formatting errors. We arrived in Barcelona and checked into Roommate Pau which, unbeknown to us was next to a construction site. We kind of complained but the concierge offered me free wine, and the beds were so comfortable after 10 hours on planes that I was just like, “I’ll drink until I can’t hear the jackhammers.” And I did. Then the next day we got on a bus and did an all day tour of Barcelona. It’s an amazing city, full of cool architecture. And tattoo parlours.

So here’s what happened. Ken and I were having dinner at a tapas restaurant. It was a gorgeous evening, and we were sitting outside on the sidewalk patio. Suddenly I noticed a woman come out of the storefront next to us and she was sporting a new tattoo, and you could tell it was new because it was wrapped in clear plastic, and then I realized that we were sitting next to a tattoo parlour and there was a sign in the window that said, “We take walk-ins.” And I may or may not have been drinking wine but it suddenly occurred to me that the coolest souvenir of Barcelona that I could possibly get would be a new tattoo:

Me: I want a tattoo.

Ken: What? Seriously?

Me: I’m going in to see how long it’ll take.

Ken: Uh, okay I guess?

So I went in and showed the guy a picture of a crow and he was like “Si, I can do it now. It will take 40 minutes.” And so I got a tattoo in Barcelona.

It’s a very cool, good-sized tattoo to commemorate the publication of At The End Of It All. I have tattoos for all of my books now but I have another novel coming out this summer, the sequel to The Seventh Devil, and frankly, I’m running out of real estate.

Now I’m on a boat. It’s a very large cruise ship and as I write this, we’re on our way to France. Getting out of port was hilarious, mostly because the ship had to do a 360 in order to aim the bow at the exit, and Ken and I watched, along with a lot of other people who know nothing about boats but believe they are experts:

Man 1: He’s going to hit the wall! What’s he doing? Very poor seamanship.

Woman 1: Why doesn’t he just back out? You see, if the captain was a woman, we’d already be in France.

Woman 2: Does he have to keep blowing the horn like that?! It’s so loud!

Needless to say, the captain, whom I assume has done this type of thing many times, managed to get us turned around and off to sea without having to back up his big ass cruise ship, without hitting any walls, and with the requisite amount of horn blowing. We’re off to France, as I said, then Italy and back to Barcelona. Maybe if we arrive early, I can get another tattoo.

Reading Is Fun-da-Mental

A while back there was a call for readers at a particular online event celebrating a Canadian poet who had just released a new book. I’ve done these open mic things in the past and really enjoyed it, so I put my name forward and I was accepted for the reading last Thursday night. I was initially super-happy but then I realized that, rather than being able to choose what I was going to read from one of my short story collections, it was a POETRY reading. I don’t write a lot of poetry but I’ve been working on a few pieces recently, and I had one I was really proud of, so I thought, what the heck—this will be a safe space to try it out and maybe get some feedback. The poem I’d chosen to read was about narrowly missing hitting a deer with my car, and how the universal forces of time and karma came into play—I mean, there was more too it than that, but that was kind of the main thing. It was a pretty personal piece and I thought I’d just read that one and be done. The event started and the guest poet was amazing, reading some of her poetry and chatting about the things that informed her writing, particularly the deaths of her parents when she was younger. Her mother had passed away from cancer when she was in university and then her father had died suddenly and tragically a few years later AFTER HE SWERVED ON THE ROAD TO AVOID A DEER AND CRASHED HIS CAR. And I was like WTF am I supposed to do NOW?! Was I really going to read a poem about how I SURVIVED a potential deer/car incident when her dad DIED IN ONE? Obviously not—I’m not a MONSTER (unlike the woman at the last reading I was at, a Valentine’s Day event about “Love”, where we were specifically asked NOT to read anything that included violence, rape or incest. SHE read an essay about EXACTLY ALL OF THAT and it was so disturbing that no one knew what to say. And I was even more upset because I write a lot about death but I managed to find one of the few pieces I’ve written that didn’t involve someone dying, and I don’t think anyone even heard me because they were still in shock over such a flagrant violation of the Valentine’s Day Spirit, although if you think about it, the original Valentine was dragged around Rome, beaten to death and had his head cut off, so she may have had a point).

 At any rate, I was now left in the position of being shortly introduced and not having anything to read, so I was scrambling, flipping through docs and trying to find something I was equally proud of or was at least polished enough to read to a group of PROFESSIONAL POETS. So my turn came, and I read a couple of things, including a poem I wrote for my dog, and no one responded, not even in the chat, and then I just shut off my camera because I felt so dumb. But then the next reader started his presentation by saying really nice things about my literary magazine, DarkWinter Lit, where one of his first poems was published, and that made me feel a little less embarrassed.

Then yesterday, I was fortunate enough to do a live reading at a coffee shop/bookstore in a nearby town with a few other writers. It was a much better experience aside from a quirky microphone. One of the stories I read was one that I’d never read out loud to an audience before called “Twist of Faith” and I’d forgotten that at one point, there’s some very dark humour. When I got to that point, people in the audience started laughing, and then I started too, and could barely keep going–a combination of nerves and relief that other people thought it was funny too. But I finished and got some great feedback, as well as a complimentary swag bag that contained GROUND COFFEE, and if you know anything about me at all, you’ll know that I would have preferred wine.

Long story short, being a writer is hard.

In other news, I was very disappointed by this ad which is ostensibly for flooring but also for a fox? So I messaged the guy to find out more about the fox and he didn’t take it very well at all. 

Apparently the fox DOESN’T come with the carpeting, and personally I think this ad is extremely misleading because I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s more interested in the fox than the carpet it’s sitting on. The fox is very cute and looks equally confused as to why it’s featured in an ad for a FLOORING STORE NOT A PET STORE, and someone should tell this guy that his customer service is as sh*tty as his ad sense if he yells at people who come into the store to pet his fox the way he yelled at me for inquiring about his fox.

Anyway, if you’re interested, here’s the poem I wrote about my dog:

For Atlas

It’s 2 am and
My dog is whimpering
In the throes of a bad dream.
Does he miss his mother and
The way she would comfort him
When he was frightened?
Is he lonely for his brothers
And sisters,
For the warmth of their bodies
At night?

He cries and twitches
And I wonder what haunts him.
I am his pack now.
I shake him awake and tell him
Everything is
Just fine.

Wardrobe Malfunctions

On Wednesday, I decided to do some laundry. When I went to take the clothes out of the dryer, it turned out I was missing a pair of underwear. This may sound like a First World problem, but it was my LUCKY pair of underwear. And I was pretty upset because what the hell happened to my lucky underwear? I’m pretty sure it went INTO the dryer, so where did it go? Is there really an alternate universe where a strange little leprechaun-type man says “Ooh, that’s just lovely. Feel that fabric! I MUST have this lucky underwear which is most certainly somebody’s favourite!” and then you never see it again until there’s a rainbow?

Notice those gaping maws…

I checked the washing machine AND the dryer at least twice more and there was no sign of it. Then I searched my closet—same thing. Then I backtracked and followed my path from the laundry room up to the bedroom (I may or may not have stopped in the kitchen for some liquid refreshment to comfort myself over the loss). But now I’m worried that maybe it’s hiding in a pair of pants or a sweater or something, and that it will re-appear at an embarrassing moment. And while this may seem like a long-shot, believe me it’s not—I’ve had it happen before…

October, 1991: Ken and I had moved to Thunder Bay so that he could go to teacher’s college. I couldn’t find a paying job—there were 3 rounds of interviews just to be a waitress—so I started volunteering at a local public school. I went there every morning to help students in the “Literacy Centre”, which was, in reality, a small room with one computer. On the way to school that fateful morning, I was on the sidewalk in front of the building when I looked down and realized that the toe of a pair of pantyhose was peeking out from my pant leg. I stopped. The best way to remove it seemed to be to just pull on it. This was, of course, easier said than done, and I stood there for several minutes, bent over, tugging, hopping, and wriggling around until the offending piece of laundry was finally extricated from my trousers. I shoved it in my pocket, and went into the school. When I got into the “Literacy Centre”, the teacher I was volunteering with asked me, “Um…what were you doing outside?”

I explained that I had an issue with a misplaced pair of pantyhose, and asked, “Why? Could you see me?”
“Yes,” she replied, “Yes, we could.”

We?! Who the f*ck was WE?! Well, it turned out that she had been in the grade 2 classroom next door, and she, along with 25 seven-year-olds, watched out the windows in gleeful fascination at my bizarre behaviour. Of course, they couldn’t see the pantyhose from that far away–all they could see was me doing an insane dance on the sidewalk. Thankfully, I was able to produce the nylons from my pocket to prove that I wasn’t drunk, or hallucinating about being attacked by a swarm of bees. But that’s not the only time I’ve had problems with underwear and sidewalks…

March 1998: I was about 5 months pregnant, and was getting very uncomfortable with a variety of articles of clothing. I’d resorted to wearing flannel shirts and sweat pants a lot, but I had to give a workshop in Dundas. I found the only dressy clothes that still fit me and put them on in an attempt to look professional. Ken offered to drive me, since I had no idea how to get to Dundas, and this was long before the days of GPS. On the way home, I was feeling all twisty and itchy, and I said to Ken that I really wanted to take off my bra. He said, “Go ahead. NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW.” (When you read that last line, pretend that it was said very ominously, and that it was accompanied by a roll of thunder or an echo or something.) Taking his advice, I wriggled out of the bra and tossed it aside. A while later, we were going through the small town 5 minutes down the road from where we lived, and we decided to stop at the local video store. “I can’t go in,” I said. “I’m not wearing a bra.”

“Just put on your raincoat,” said Ken. “NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW.” (This time, pretend that he laughed maniacally and that everything went red and flame-y for a second. And for those of you who are saying, “No bra? What’s the big deal?”, remember that this was over 25 years ago and it was a different time/different me. If it was today, I would have gone in nips a-blazing, not giving a sh*t, haha.)

Again, taking his advice, I put on my raincoat, and in we went to peruse the shelves of VHS tapes. Suddenly, the door opened, and this huge guy wearing a red lumberjack jacket and work boots stomped in. And he was TWIRLING MY BRA AROUND HIS FINGER.

“Hey, Darlene,” he laughed, as he addressed the video store clerk. “Is this yours? I found it on the sidewalk outside the store.”

“Not mine!” answered the clerk. “And it wasn’t there when I went out for a smoke a few minutes ago!”

And then, like a slow motion nightmare, they both turned and looked directly at me. In that moment, I had a choice—I could lie, and everyone would know I was lying, or I could salvage what dignity I had left. So I stalked over to the guy, grabbed my bra out of his grubby hands, and walked out of the store. Well, it was an expensive bra. Ken and I tried to piece the whole mystery together, and all we could figure is that, when I tossed the bra aside twenty minutes earlier, it must have landed on the floor of the car, and it caught on my heel when I got out, leaving Joe Lumberjack to retrieve it. Needless to say, we never went back to that store again. Ironically, that store is now the Drumbo Pub–I’ve had two book launches there, and little do they know that my bra made a guest appearance there long before I ever did.

Long story short, I need to find my underwear before it finds me–and I have a couple of big things in the works so I NEED the luck!

Driving Cats And Demon Dolls

I was driving home from work one day last week, and I called Ken. This is a feat unto itself, as I have to yell “Kenneth” into my steering wheel and then contend with the voice-calling woman who inevitably says “Did you say ‘Kenneth’?” and it doesn’t matter how many times or how loud I say it, I always have to reassure her that I did, indeed, mean Kenneth. So while I was waiting for the phone to connect, I was stopped at a red light and I happened to glance over at the car next to me just as Ken picked up.

Ken: Hey, are you on your way home?

Because in the driver’s seat of the car next to me, there was A CAT. And it was the cutest cat, a little orange tabby, and it was sitting on the lap of the woman driving the car, but the way she and the cat were sitting, it looked like the cat was DRIVING. The cat was staring straight ahead like it was waiting for the light to change and whatnot, and as I was staring at it in full worship mode, the cat turned to look at me out the driver’s side window. So I did what any normal person would do—I smiled my best smile and waved to the cat. The cat smiled back, although it didn’t wave, which is normal because everyone knows how important it is to keep both hands/paws on the steering wheel at all times, a rule that I don’t always adhere to when there ARE CATS. But the woman upon whose lap the cat was sat DID smile and wave back, which confused me because I wasn’t waving TO HER. But then I realized that she was obviously friends with the cat and if I wanted to get in good with the cat, I should probably be nice to her, so I nodded to her in a congenial way then turned my attention back to the cat and mouthed, “Hey!” And then the cat kind of meowed in response, at which point I realized that Ken was talking to me and was very worried that I wasn’t answering. Because I was TALKING TO THE CAT, KEN.

Then the light turned green and we drove off, and then I was really sad.

Me: I’ll never see that cat again.
Ken: But you made a good impression.
Me: I hope so.

My aunt’s cat, Rupert. He would drive if you let him.

In other news, I was recently searching online for a floor lamp (they are literally impossible to find, and I have this giant stained-glass lampshade that I got for free so if I can find a lamp base for it, I’d be so thrilled) when I came upon this bizarre ad.

The owner of the doll is definitely not too old for dolls, considering that the spelling and grammar are those of a six-year-old—in fact, I think the problem is that the doll is too old for HER because it looks like it’s lived a very long and complex life. And the pictures—seriously, isn’t this the kind of doll that would murder you in your sleep just for sh*ts and giggles?

“What’s that hiding in the tree?”

“Oh, that’s Marnie—she wants to cut out your tongue and eat your liver, but don’t worry—she can’t run very fast, so you can get a good head start.”

Of course, I’ve been watching that show Yellowjackets, so now I’m suspicious of anything that looks like a teenaged girl, and Marnie reminds me of ALL OF THEM. And although I’ve dubbed her ‘Marnie’, her name, according to the ad, is Ginger Hair Baby Doll, which is kind of a stripper name when you think about it, like “Please welcome to the stage—Ginger-Hair Baby Doll! And remember folks, she possesses demon powers so make sure you tip big!”

And now that I’ve posted this, I have to get ready to take Kate to a city several hours away where she’ll be moving in with her boyfriend and starting her new career as a veterinary technician. We have a 15-foot U-Haul and two cars full of stuff–I just wish we had a cat who could help with the driving.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Last week, the building where I work was visited by a couple of ghost hunters who have a Youtube channel. They did a walkthrough and pointed out several areas that they felt were haunted. For example, one of the women pointed to the freight elevator and claimed that it was haunted by a worker who had fallen down the shaft. Now, I’m no skeptic, but as someone who is terrified of elevators and who is forced, on occasion, to run the freight elevator, I did extensive research on whether or not this was actually possible, and it’s not. The elevator won’t move if any of the doors are open, and you can’t open any of the doors unless the elevator is right there. So sorry, ghostbusters—that one was just your imagination. They also claimed that a vase in a booth on the second floor was haunted—they speculated that the person who had owned the vase was super-pissed off because her possessions had been sold and left to languish in a dusty old factory, BUT…she was also thrilled to be noticed. I can’t prove that one wrong, except to say that if anything IS haunted in the building, it’s the life-sized animatronic Hallowe’en character Michael Myers who, when plugged in, swivels around in time to the movie’s music and slashes the arm carrying his knife up and down. But that’s not the scary part. Even when he’s not plugged in, his eyes follow you EVERYWHERE, and I regularly hang a pink handbag from his arm and put a Barbie tank top on him, but the next time I see him, THEY’RE GONE. And he looks even madder than when Laurie poked out his eye with a coat hanger, because he likes to be pretty in pink.

But the best part of the whole spooky ghost adventure was they claimed one of the most haunted spots was on the second floor, in a booth called Fox and Feather Vintage. And do you know why I believe THAT? Because that used to be MY booth before I moved downstairs to the main floor! And that explains why I never sold anything out of there—too many bad vibes, I guess. And the bad vibes have continued because I was talking to the vendor who rents it now and she said her sales have been terrible. Not surprising. But now that my suspicions have been confirmed, I want that booth back, if only to sell stuff like this that I found on Facebook Marketplace:

Haunted frame? Why not? In fact, my only question is why is there a brown Crayola marker next to it? Is it for scale? Or is there a more insidious reason, like that ghost lady enjoys arts and crafts? I know—arts and crafts are not necessarily insidious—depending on what exactly the ghost is drawing. And the condition–“Used-Fair”? Not “Used-Possibly Dangerous”? I really want to buy it just to find out whether or not it’s really haunted, because it seems like the person who owns it isn’t sure, like they’re hedging their bets with “possibly” haunted, instead of “goddamn right it’s haunted house down boots”.

In other news, I’ve decided to start my own press, as an extension of DarkWinter Literary Magazine. It’s going to be called DarkWinter Press. I won’t be publishing my own work, but as soon as I get it set up, I’ll be looking for some projects. First though—if anyone on here has some experience with how to format things for Kindle Direct Publishing (eg: what program to use, how to do covers and images etc.) I’d be happy to touch base. I already managed to set up my account thanks to D. Wallace Peach of Myths of the Mirror and her support, but I know there’s still a ton to learn. Regardless, I’m as excited as a ghost in a vase or Michael Myers in a Barbie t-shirt.

Also, I recently competed in The Evil Squirrel’s Nest Annual Contest of Whatever and the Squirrel has posted all the entries prior to the final judgement. You can read them here!

Also, also–Happy Easter to those who celebrate it!

Pass The Popcorn

At work the other day, everyone was a-buzz, talking about this new movie called Cocaine Bear. And if you haven’t heard of it yet, you may be thinking that “cocaine bear” is some new slang for a large, hirsute drug dealer, like Scarface only with a hairy back and long beard. Yet you would be wrong, as wrong as I was when, as a child, I was obsessed with sharks and begged my mother to let me stay up late and watch a movie about a loan shark, believing the plot centered around a solitary hammerhead. No, Cocaine Bear is based on a true story about an actual bear who takes cocaine, gets addicted, and goes on a drug-fueled rampage. It’s A COMEDY. And my only question is Why? But this isn’t the only example of a movie involving an animal doing things it wouldn’t normally do. For instance, there’s Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast, which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “fish out of water story”, because this shark is IN THE SNOW. Well, at least its head is in the snow—the budget was only $7 000 and the producers didn’t have enough money for an entire mechanical shark, so you only ever see the head. I’ve seen Snow Shark and it was predictably and outrageously terrible—one critic said it “excels at being mostly forgettable” which isn’t true because I only saw it once and I still remember how awful it was. I have not, however, seen any of the follow-ups: Sharknado, Sand Sharks, and Avalanche Sharks, the synopsis of which states “a bikini contest turns into a horrifying affair when it is hit by a shark avalanche.” Obviously.

Of course, this new trend of putting animals in bizarre situations takes a back seat to another trend—that of integrating classic stories with sci-fi/fantasy scenarios. For instance, a few years ago when I was living in Toronto, my brother and I saw Pride and Prejudice…And Zombies. I didn’t know what to expect with the movie. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite novels, and when it was originally written, there was nary a hint of zombie within its pages. I figured it would just be a cheesy excuse for blood and gore, wrapped in an Edwardian cloak. I was actually pleasantly surprised that not only was the original storyline intact, the integration of the zombie storyline was well-done and not illogical at all. Well, except for the fact that there were ZOMBIES. You can never really get away from the illogic of that. Still. But then my brother told me that there was another Jane Austen rewrite called Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and I was like “WTF? Now we’re really stretching it. I’ve read that book, and it took place mostly on the moors–there was literally one scene that took place near open water, so are they land-based sea monsters? And then there was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, where the 16th President of the United States, when he’s not governing a country, kills the undead. And the two best things about this movie are 1) it was heavily criticized for being ‘overly serious’ and 2) when I googled it, the second hit was “Is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a documentary?” and you know a LOT of people have searched that for it to come up right away.

Anyway, it occurs to me that maybe I should hop on this bandwagon, and I came up with a few ideas of my own for integrated storylines.

1) Gone With The Wind and Chupacabras: On the eve of her debutante ball, the vivacious Scarlet O’Hara finds herself defending Tara, and her inept suitors, against a swarm of small, spiky, bear-like, goat-sucking creatures. Casting aside her idyllic plantation upbringing, she devotes the remainder of her life to protecting the South, declaring “I’ll never go swordless again!” With the help of the dashing Rhett Butler, and her devoted servants (“I don’t know nuthing ‘bout killing chupacabras, Miss Scarlet! But I’ll learn!”), she drives back the chupacabra hordes with nothing but her trusty sabre and her wit. Her job is, of course, made easier by the almost complete lack of goats in Georgia. Ultimately, however, she is betrayed by Rhett Butler, who unbeknown to anyone, is the Chupacabra King and is planning to take his minions to the North. When Scarlett finds out, she’s appalled:

Scarlet: Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?
Rhett: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
Scarlet: Well, f*ck you then. Prissy, hand me my sword. It’s time the Chupacabra King lost his crown.

2) Citizen Kane, Sasquatch Slayer: On his deathbed, Charles Foster Kane, newspaper tycoon extraordinaire, and a bit of a d-bag, utters his final words: “Rosebud”. No one knows what it means. His private life was a mystery; however, throughout the film, via the use of tabloid-esque newsreels, it is slowly revealed that he had another calling aside from the news business: to hunt down and slay every Sasquatch in the country. Taken in as a child by a millionaire, William Thatcher, Kane is trained in the art of surveillance and becomes noted, and ridiculed, for his numerous Sasquatch sightings. He builds a “scandal sheet” empire, based on stories about alien invasions, government conspiracies, two-headed babies, and the Kardashians. All the while craving respect and legitimacy, he turns to hunting Sasquatches in order to prove to the world that he’s not a madman. He runs for governor, with the campaign slogan “The truth is out there” and posters featuring blurry photos of Bigfoot. After a devastating loss at the polls, he builds a fantastical estate, “Xanadu”, where he lives in isolation until his death. Once the contents of the estate are inventoried, it is revealed that “Rosebud” is the name on a glass showcase found in a hidden room on the estate. It contains a stuffed, 6 foot-tall, ape-like creature.

3) The Wizard of Jackalopes: A young, mid-west farm girl gets caught in a hurricane and finds herself in a strange land. After cavorting and singing with a group of tiny, hard-drinking people, she meets a couple of witches, one good, but a little creepy and passive-aggressive, and one who seems to be bad, but whose redeeming quality is that she loved her dead sister whose crushed body lies under the farm girl’s flying barn. The bad witch vows vengeance and disappears in a cloud of red smoke. The farm girl, whose wide-eyed innocence quickly becomes super-annoying, teams up with a robot, a zombie, and a griffin in order to make their way to the Emerald City and meet a wizard who can solve all their problems. After a series of misadventures, they are confronted by the bad witch and her army of jackalopes, giant rabbits with fierce teeth and deer antlers, and are forced to fight to the death. They all die. (I have to stop here, because when I was a kid, there were so many commercials in The Wizard of Oz that the damn movie was over three hours long, and I always fell asleep at about the half-way point. I have no idea how it actually ends.)

So there you have it—fresh ways to look at the classics. I also have another idea about an FBI agent, traumatized from a childhood attack by killer lambs, who is chasing her serial killer nemesis, an unhinged talking ram who calls himself The Mutton Man, but it’s not “fleshed out” yet, haha.

The Cleaner

A couple of weeks ago, the owner of the antique market where I work came in. I was with a customer, and when I finished, he called me over. “Come here, Susan,” he said. “I need to talk to you.” I immediately went into panic mode, thinking I was going to get fired for writing a short story about the antique market (it’s called ‘Revenge of the Juggernaut’ and you can read it in At The End Of It All, which is a totally shameless plug for my new short story collection) and he must have realized that I looked like I was about to run out of the building, because he followed up with, “Don’t worry, it’s good news.”

Good news? Was I about to get a raise whilst at the same time my hours were being reduced so that I could work less and make more? Was there a secret office hockey pool that I hadn’t known I’d entered that I had just won? And if you know anything about me at all, you know that I know nothing about hockey at all, but I still managed to do incredibly well in my last office hockey pool, even though I picked my players solely on the basis of them having cool last names (I’m looking at you, William Nylander, whose name rhymes with Highlander, and as legend tells us, there can be only one). But no, I hadn’t won anything, and then I got even more nervous when he told me the news.

Owner: I wanted to tell you that we hired a cleaner.
Me: (air quotes) A ‘cleaner’?…What kind of ‘cleaner’?
Owner (befuddled): Someone to clean.
Me: Clean WHAT exactly?

Maybe I’ve watched too many mob films, TV dramas, and John Wick movies, because to ME, a cleaner is someone who cleans up, like, dead bodies and whatnot. And I was pretty sure that we only sold antiques at work, but maybe THAT was just a front for something much more insidious, which would explain why my young boss quite often gets hedgy when I ask him questions like, “What happened to that vendor on the third floor?” or “What were you doing here so early this morning?”

But the owner quickly (maybe TOO quickly, which is exactly what a mob boss would do) clarified that he had hired a person to clean the bathrooms, vacuum, mop the floors, sweep the stairs and so on, and he would be coming every Wednesday. “Isn’t that wonderful?” he said. “Now you don’t have to do it any more. Of course, there will still be weekly maintenance but the majority of the cleaning will be done on Wednesday, so you don’t have to mop the floors or scrub the toilets any more.” And he said this like he honestly thought I had EVER scrubbed the toilets. I have, however, probably once a week, mopped the floors in the bathrooms, so it was a pleasant surprise, even though I had literally just finished mopping the floors and now all I could think was “Damn, if I’d only waited until Tuesday.”

Nevertheless, on Wednesday, we were all very excited for the cleaner to arrive. Which he did. And almost immediately, one of my co-workers leaned over and whispered to me:

Co-Worker: THAT’S the cleaner?
Me: Apparently. He looks like…a cleaner.
Co-Worker: I know, right?! What do you think he cleans, when he’s not cleaning here?
Me: I couldn’t begin to say, but he definitely looks like…a cleaner.

And what we meant was, we had never seen a person who looked more like a person who cleaned up murder scenes and mob hits in our lives. If there was an epitome of someone who ‘cleaned’ for a living, that was this guy, who looks kind of like Chazz Palminteri’s cousin. We spent the morning expecting to see large white trash bags, or at least rolled-up carpets being hurried out of the building by a team of his henchman, but sadly, all he did was wash down the toilets, vacuum up all the rock salt from the carpets, mop the floors, and sweep the stairs. And he did an amazing job–almost like he was a…PROFESSIONAL.

In other news, my Canadian publisher recently sent me the cover mock-up for my new novel, the sequel to The Seventh Devil, called The Devil You Know. And I couldn’t be happier about it. The book won’t be out for a while–I just got the printer’s proofs to check, but here’s the cover if you haven’t seen it on Facebook or whatever: