Harvey Nelson awoke like he was surfacing from a deep plunge in cold water. His eyes snapped open and he drew in a sharp breath. He half-rose out of bed, only to relax again, sinking back into the sober white sheets of his sister’s guest bed.
Harvey took another breath, this time letting it out slowly, and stared up at the ceiling tiles of the basement bedroom tying to decode the Rorschach design created by the brown water stains. Dusty grey light filtered in through the small, filmy window, barely disturbing the darkness that lingered in the corners of the room. The only items in the room aside from the metal bed, an ancient, chipped dresser, and a bedside table (equally old), were a few boxes filled with clothes and personal items. The boxes lay scattered about the room, one or two spewing their contents across the floor. Aside from these things, the room was bare.
Observed recently on Township Road 360 nearly halfway through a long ride on a warm and windy day.
Coming as it did while pushing through a section of road with deep, deep soul-sucking gravel.
It seemed to me that this was much like my life. In these times and in this place, this is what one might feel like.
But it never lasts long (relatively speaking).
This was what I saw near the end of my ride. Had already left the gravel behind and was riding on nice, smooth and newer secondary highway. I had the wind at my back.
It’s boarded up now, but at one time it must have been a sanctuary on the prairies. I like to imagine that this was at a time, maybe not unlike the times we are now experiencing, when buildings like this offered shelter and refuge and solace.
The snow has melted, the dirt mostly thawed, and I am surveying the damage. In less than a month this is supposed to be a garden. Right now it’s a disaster zone. I question myself:
Was all the mulch really necessary?
And what was the rationale in leaving behind all these dead plants?
What are all these unidentifiable sticks lovingly planted in flower pots, anyway?
It’s a mess, but hidden in the winter’s decay are signs of new life: slender green onion shoots, dandelion leaves, and the indomitable tulips that arrive in April like impolitely early party guests, standing with their arms crossed while I apologize for the state of things.
In the back garden, other early greens have appeared—but these are the ones for which I am responsible: early lettuce and radish sprouts, and tomato seedlings that have this year, to my great dismay, insisted on bolting to ridiculous heights.
They are heirlooms—Brandywine Reds, Romas, Manitobas, and Mortgage Lifters. I taste the names and think about tomato sauce.
They, like the rest of the garden, exist in a constant experimental flux. Crop locations are rotated, planting times are altered to see if produce will arrive earlier or later, and the sticks, I now recall, are the gruesome remains of a rose-cutting experiment gone wrong. The garden tolerates a great deal of my poorly conceived “science”, but each year I have to remind myself of one crucial factor in the building and maintenance of a garden: it does not really matter what I do. I can’t make the plants grow, I don’t control their biological impulses, and in the end a garden only attends to one mandate: to grow.
I will, of course, fuss over the garden. I will expend a great deal of anxiety over the plants, even though my family members will gently remind me that I could always buy more plants if these die. Of course I could—but in the face of nature’s unperturbed persistence, I balk. I want to be involved. And so, though it is still too early, I am out here with rake and spade, working the soil, clearing the mulch.
Even though I know that in the end, the garden will look much like it did last year.
My latest work in progress began quite some time ago. I have always had a fascination of the World War I era and the ensuing Spanish Influenza outbreak—a pandemic that wreaked as much devastation as the war itself in some parts of the world. One could think endlessly on the parallels between man-made destruction versus the destruction of nature…talk about a battle between two colossuses.
In addition to my interest in the Spanish Flu pandemic, I have always had a great respect for the men and women who fought and worked in the first world war. I am completely in awe of their deeds. These men and women accomplished a monumental task with equipment and tools—both military and medical—that were in their formative stages and they did so in the worst of conditions. They endured hardships and circumstances we have not seen since and they did it so we could have the life we now enjoy.
I cannot comprehend the sacrifices they made.
I have worked with the elderly and have always been amazed at the wealth of stories and knowledge they have collected over their lives. It disturbed me to think we were losing the generation of knowledge-keepers from the first world war and an early pandemic experience. One could only guess what significant information would be lost along with them. I feared the disappearance of stories that told of gritty fortitude, determined sacrifice, and breath-stopping adventures. The stories of those who had served in the war and had survived the pandemic were far too rich and far too consequential for them to be forgotten. After all, those acts of courage form the underpinnings of what each of us have become. And, thus, I began doing some research, gleaning what stories I may—and there are a great many indeed.
The Light Attendant and The Bluebird (working title) evolved over many years, its beginnings tracing back to an anecdotal story mentioned briefly in the third book of the Shifters trilogy. My resolve hardened into firm research in the summer of 2019 when I mis-read a book title in some dyslexic moment of scanning a book store shelf too quickly. The title as I had read it stuck in my head, attached itself to my musings of WWI and the Spanish Influenza and turned those thoughts into a story. Over the summer and fall and into the next year, I researched the war and developed my characters and plot.
Timing is everything, as they say, and in March, 2020, I was re-deployed to the COVID Assessment and Testing Centre as our very own, real-life pandemic took hold of our country. I began a fascinating journey of writing about the war and the following 1918 pandemic as our own pandemic matched pace with my story.
It was an interesting year.
I have now finished the first draft of my story and have turned it over to other members of our Creative Collective for a first edit. I already know there are a few changes to be made—I thought of one addition at 04:00 one night, an occurrence with which most authors will be familiar. The manuscript will take a bit of refining, but I am excited about this work and wanted to begin sharing it with others.
We at ShiftersPress Collective are very excited about the upcoming release of our latest work: Read This Quickly (Or We All Die). We are so excited, in fact, that we couldn’t quite wait until the book is out and just had to share a bit of it with you. Enjoy the first chapter!
professional apologies. The story you were expecting to read cannot be found in
this book. Plot, characters, and syntax have all escaped via an
inter-dimensional portal and have now become hopelessly tangled with reality
(that, and we got blood all over the cover). Your only choice is to accept the
good with the bad, taking the heroes with the villains. If you choose to shut
this book and place it back on the shelf, simply pray that they do not find
We never meant
to wreck the universe. Of course, nobody ever does. If you must blame someone,
the vast majority of the fault lies with fantasy novelist Reese Richardson. She
was the one, after all, who dreamed up the means for the creative world to
suddenly flood over into this perfectly proper existence we call the
twenty-first century. Thanks to her efforts, the villains are now running
about, wreaking havoc in the streets and causing nearly as much damage as the protagonists.
Once more it is
up to average people like you and me to don our grown up underwear and do what
needs to be done—the very difficult task that nobody seems to want to do: wade
laboriously through the uninspired writings of Reese Richardson and face down
her poorly developed characters. It’s that or flee to an exotic beach somewhere
and await the coming onslaught of terror with a drink in one hand and a sappy
romance novel in the other. Your choice really.
We are completing our next collective work entitled, Read This Quickly or We All Die. A fantasy, humour, adventure story written in Terry Pratchett style.
The story follows the ludicrous adventures that befall a fantasy novelist when all of her fictional characters come to life and engage in a destructive battle between good and evil in the midst of a busy urban setting. Comedy and chaos ensue.
We hope to have Read This Quickly complete in April, 2019. For now, I’m very excited to share the cover art.