Horse Story

By Derek Smith

Norman knew needed to make a positive change in his life. The last big change he had gone through had been pretty negative, at first at least. His wife had divorced him. It wasn’t anything too volatile, they just didnt get along together like they once had. That wasn't the cause of Normans continued frustration though. He was in his mid-forties and feeling like everything hed worked on to that point had been meaningless. Right out of school he worked writing dry press releases for a company whose ethics he despised. Later he joined the public sector and wrote report after report seemingly only to meet a deadline that ultimately never truly mattered. Norm decided he needed to step way outside his comfort zone, the city life hed grown accustomed to and complacent within, and challenge himself doing something totally different, and that in his mind mattered.  

Looking to blow off steam after yet another soul-sucking day at the office, Norm headed out to his usual escape, a local off-track betting joint. He felt like he was among his kind there, the clientele was made up of mostly middle-aged men or older, and all were tired and world weary. It certainly had its uses for watching and betting on horse racing, but it was mostly just a communal escape. Over beers he lamented his situation with one of the regulars. Brian Cameron had been a fixture since Norm had started going a few years back. Brian had moved to Ontario from P.E.I. in the 1980s to work at some of the horse farms, working with horses racing on the bigger Toronto-Upstate New York racing circuit. Though as local farms downsized, Brian lost his job. The two often shared stories over beers together, sharing strategies for sure winners and complaining about their many losses. This time as they talked though, Brian had some news for Norm. Brians family back home was having trouble finding some temporary help on the farm. The pay wasn't great, just minimum wage and lodging for a position needing no experience, but he figured he could get Norm the work if he wanted to try it. Norm wasn't sure, but he did have vacation time he had to use up soon.

Norm ultimately found himself on a farm in the middle of nowhere in P.E.I. He knew the island wasnt all that big, but the drive from Charlottetown seemed to take ages, passing by field after field of blossoming white potato plants, seas of tall, green corn stalks and fields of bright green grass full of grazing animals. Norm was amazed by the lack of pretty much anything. For someone who was so used to having neighbours just a bang on the wall away the fields that stretched on for miles and miles between houses was quite a switch.

He hoped itd prove challenging, and indeed, it lacked most of the creature comforts hed taken for granted by living in a city. The internet connection was slow, if it was working at all, and he didn't have the same access to foods or coffee he liked. The nearest town didnt even have a Starbucks. What passed for a coffee place was a simple local diner. And of course there was the whole thing about not knowing anything about horses, but he figured he could pick that up along the way. The downgraded coffee situation, that was truly dire.

An obstacle Norm hadn't expected was a bit of culture shock. The family he was living with, who ran the farm, had very different interests from his own. They had never agonized over a submission for the New Yorkers cartoon caption contest, or had spent an ungodly amount of time flipping through a Netflix queue of movies they'd already decided they wanted to watch. But they were kind, as people helping rescued animals tend to be, and extremely welcoming.

Norm had never worked with animals before, and especially nothing as big as a horse, so they started him out slow. To his surprise the first day working they handed him a shovel. He was going to shovel the horse shit out of dozens of stalls. Not something he had expected, but very much out of his comfort zone. It was frustrating work at first; it was mindless and every day there was more shit to shovel, it reminded him too much of his previous work. Slowly though his responsibilities grew as the family realized he wasn't a completely useless, self absorbed city person. After a couple of weeks of mostly menial labor they finally let him near a living, breathing horse.

The first horse Norm was introduced to was a calm old Clydesdale named Harold.  Harold had met with a forced retirement after breaking a leg stepping into a gopher hole. He had had a lengthy career pulling wagons and sleighs loaded with screaming kids. His owners knew the basics of caring for a horse, but dealing with an aged horse with a broken leg was too much for them to handle. Harold was like family to them though, so they moved him to where hed be well looked after.

At first Norm was intimidated by Harold, but Harold had seen it all and was extremely gentle and well trained, standing stoically while Norm fumbled around with the bridle. Try as he might Norm could not get Harold to budge. He pulled, he tugged, he whistled, he patted, jumped up and down, asked nicely, asked rudely, offered to do the dishes for a week, but Harold stood tall and unmoving. After a few minutes a trainer came over to help and showed Norm the proper way of pulling on Harolds bridle. Harold had been so well trained, that when the bridle was on that meant no moving unless instructed to.

The two spent countless hours together, most of it walking around one of the bright red soil tracks. It was a good structured work out for old Harold, and Norm soon discovered that Harold was a pretty good listener. As they worked, Norm would share stories about his life and his concerns with things back home. Norms responsibilities grew to essentially be fully in charge of Harolds care, feeding him, grooming and washing him, and giving him his workout. The two fell into an easy routine.

Good morning, Harry! Norm would greet Harold in the morning, rubbing his neck and teasing him with a carrot before the two got to work. Norm had never really been responsible for another living thing before, and he was finding caring for Harold meaningful in a way hed never experienced before. Back at the office it was hard to care about the work he was doing when his bosses ultimately never did either. But caring for Harold and looking after him, seeing him limp less as he walked, was rewarding in a way Norm had never felt before.  

Norm found the work and pace of life liberating. When he had a few minutes spare time, instead of spending it staring at his phone, hed wander outside and breathe in the fresh, clear, country air and watch trainers working with their horses, seeing them making progress step by step. With two weeks left, the family running the facility offered Norm the chance to stay on as a regular employee. The pay was a substantial cut from what hed been making at the office, but the family was willing to overlook his prior inexperience and let him learn on the job.   

Ultimately though Norm decided on returning to the city and continue working at his office job while taking classes at night. He still didn't like his office job, but it was going to be a means to an end, no longer just a dead end. He had discovered he liked giving back and truly found a new direction in life, he was motivated to do more, to dedicate himself to helping those in need. Norm thought of the homeless that frequently huddled around the front of his office building and was inspired, concerns for him had been trying to find something on his Netflix queue, while they struggled with life battling the elements. Norm knew he could do more to help, with his job experience he figured hed be able to get an administrative position at a homeless shelter to start. But by going back to school and getting another diploma, he hoped to be able to do something more hands on working directly with those in need.

Afraid of slipping back into his old work routine, Norm began taking more frequent breaks at work. Hed sneak off for a few minutes here and there when he could. Every few days, he would text with some of the trainers back at the farm and check in to see how Harold was doing. After being home for a few weeks a package arrived for him. He opened it and found a framed photo of him tugging at Harolds bridle as the horse stood firm, refusing to budge. He took it to work with him, it was a good motivator to stay focused on his goals.


Derek Smith

Derek is currently enrolled in Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program, is an avid hat-wearer and a voracious reader. 

Leave a Message

By Kelly Spence

“You’ve reached Ryan, leave a message and I’ll get to yeah when I can there.”

2011

January

“Hey, I’m not sure if you remember me, I was at the Barley Mow on Saturday… um well I managed to go home with your sweater that night, in case you were looking for it. Lemme know when  you’re free to pick it up, I still kinda feel bad stealing your only form of warmth that night. Anyways, it was good to see you again. Oh, it’s Kathleen by the way. Okay, bye.”

“Hey so, thanks for the dinner again last night. We should do that more often, it was fun. Sorry I missed your call earlier, been working all day. Also it’s Kathleen. Forever failing at voicemails.”

March

 “I cannot believe you still haven’t seen Firefly, we need to marathon it like yesterday, everything is amazing. That was totally not the point of this voicemail, but still. Just letting you know I’ll be a tad late tonight, but I’ll make it up with a bottle of wine. You liked that red, right?”

April

“Wake up, you, it’s the last day of my first year of freaking college and class just let out so I’m on my way over. It’s juuust passing 11 so maybe we could go out to lunch to celebrate? I’ll be there  in about half an hour, if you’re still asleep I’m jumping on you.”

June

“This is me reminding you about some album you told me to remind you about. You’re welcome. So helpful.”

August

“Is there any way you can get out of working next Friday? We’re having a surprise dinner for my mom’s birthday. We’re probably going to that fancy new place near the airport. Dress light, it is stupid hot right now. Let me know, love. See you Wednesday.”

December

“Hey, sorry I’m running late. Work was ridiculously busy. Retail is hell, and my boss is so stressed out right now, it’s kind of funny. I’ll be at your place in about fifteen, just pulling out of the parking lot now. Merry Christmas!”

 

2012

January

“Matt left his scarf at my place. Just let your brother know I have it. He may not remember much of New Years to be honest, so just in case he forgot about that little fact. Also, casually remind him that he owes me a new lampshade…”

February

“If you actually picked up your phone it would be lovely, but at this point I’m kinda used to your ridiculous work schedule. Which makes sense since it’s been about a year. Anyways, just letting you  know to expect a tiny surprise after work tonight. See you soon, love.”

April

“If I see one more syringe or ridiculous dosage question, I’m going to shoot someone. Can we get stupidly hammered on Friday? Exams are done by then, might as well finally drink that bottle of whisky you bought.”

July

“Happy birthday! Again, so sorry that you’re working as usual, but I think tonight may make your shit mood disappear. Buy an energy drink or something. You’ll be staying up late. Love you.”

October

“The army? Seriously? Fuck .”

“I just. How could you not have mentioned it was an idea first? Before it became an actual thing.”

November

“Okay, you cannot just hang up in the middle of an argument for Christ’s sake. I get that you’re tired from work, but fuck. This is a big deal. It’s a whole new career. Call me. Call me. Call me. And know that I love you.”

December

“Let your mother know I got that bottle of white that she likes for dinner tonight. She’s making the turkey, might as well give her the option to get drunk after all that effort.”

 

2013

February

“We should go to Park Omega. That is all.”

April

“One. More. Year. Why the hell did I let you convince me to do nursing?”

June

“I’m surprised you still haven’t heard from them. The army I mean. You applied eight months ago. That’s ridiculous. Is your father getting pissed off about that? I’m surprised he hasn’t been able to pull any strings.”

July

“I got the keys to our apartment today. Just picked them up. God the view still amazes me. You’ve for sure got Wednesday off, right? We can use that day to move most of our things in, get settled. Maybe christen the apartment.”

September

“Summer needs to not be so short. On the plus side, we’re finally doing PRACTICALS this year. Did they actually force you in again this week? Just remember you’ll hear back soon. Love you.”

October

“Sooooo, don’t be angry, but I may have bought a puppy today. She was really cute and I kind of want to name her Dorito or Pinot or Tequila or something… You have a say in her name, by the way.”

November

“You should stay home tomorrow, being sick and all. I can take care of you. Hell, we do have that nurse outfit…”

December

“Is it true? You got in ?”

 

2014

January

“Fifteen weeks isn’t that bad. It’s just three months. We can do that. And graduation is at the beginning of May. It’ll be fine. I’ll see you Wednesday, and we can go out and get some of the things you need. I can’t wait to see you in uniform…”

February

“It’s almost midnight, and I know you’re asleep in some uncomfortable tent in a forest or whatever, but damn do I miss you. I’m going stir crazy. The lack of contact is driving me insane. I  love you.”

March

“Three more weeks. Fucking hell, love. So close. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.”

April

“Hey, just letting you know we’re almost at the base. Maybe half an hour, tops. There’s a high chance I’ll jump you before you even finish your graduation ceremony, PS. See you soon .”

May

“Soo Tequila made friends with the dog in the apartment downstairs and now they’re inseparable. I think she as a doggie boyfriend. Anyways. We should go up to the cottage next week, relax. You deserve some down time, love.”

June

“You’re leaving already? I thought we had more time. Another seven months may kill me. Please find out the exact date, love. I’ll take some time off work, we can have a few days before you  go.”

October

“Started at the hospital today. Hopefully you’ve got time for a call tonight, I’d love to tell you all about it. Has the training gotten better? The classes and such? Love you .”

December

“Two weeks. We can celebrate Christmas when your training is done, and you’ve come back to me.”

 

2015

January

“Hey you, I’m just picking up milk before I get home. I may get some pizza too. Let’s have a lazy night. This shitty rainy weather definitely calls for a lazy evening. Find a funny movie to watch  tonight. I love you.”

December

“You’ve reached Kathleen. I’m either busy or screening your call right now, so make it quick.”

“I’ve been listening to these voice mails for months now. Eight months, and I still can’t bring myself to delete any of them. I’m so sorry, babe. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. I should have been there . I love you, too.”


kelly spence

A 20-something who reads too many romance novels, has a soft spot for wine and anything comfortable, and has decided to blog about her experiences with creepy people on the internet. Hopefully, nothing too traumatizing will happen.

Facebook -  OkCupid Profile (created for an experiment)

Sub-Zero

By Mark Lentz

Jan. 17, 1952

 Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Millions of stars sparkle in the pristine night sky high above Mashuk Mountain. Red, brown, and purple hues of the Milky Way Galaxy are visible to the naked eye. The landscape is dominated by thick stands of oak and beech trees, making line-of-sight trekking for a group of 20-something-year-old backpackers more difficult. The only real way of navigating these woods is with a compass and a map, but this close-knit group of friends need neither of these. All of them are accomplished mountain hikers and climbers who are just as comfortable in the wilds of northern Russia as most people are in their own living rooms.

All three men have large frames, making it difficult to maneuver inside the confines of the tent.   

 “Hey Sasha!” Igor yells over from his nearby tent. “You better snuggle close to Anna and Dominika tonight.”

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?” Sasha says, putting her long blonde hair into a ponytail.  

Viktor says, “It’s supposed to get cold tonight. Very cold. Minus 58.”

“So I guess the same goes for you three then too.” Anna replies.

Alexei, Viktor, and Igor all look at each other, not sure what to say.

“Don’t even think about it.” Alexei says, straight-faced. Instantly, the group breaks into a fit of laughter.

Each tent faces the other, separated only by a few feet. Snow banks reach half way up the height of the tents, providing an excellent windbreak from the bitter cold. Embers from their diminishing campfire are swept up in the increasing winds, burning brilliantly before blinking from existence. The winds are pounding the sides of the tents, rocking the lights they have hanging inside, moving them in wild concentric circles and giving the interior a night-club feel.

“Igor!” Dominika says out loud, competing with the wind to be heard. “You picked a great night to be camping at the top of a mountain!”

“I do my best.” he says.

“Hey… guys?” Anna says.

“Yes Anna.” Viktor says sarcastically.

“What’s going on?” Anna looks at the other two, eyes wide.

“What is it?” Dominika says.

Anna points her finger at Sasha. “It’s Sasha. Look.”

Dominika flinches and rocks away from Sasha, her dark hair falling in front of her face, she leans against the wall of the tent. “What the hell?”

“What? What is it?” she says. “Come on, stop screwing around.”

“No, look. It’s your hair. It’s standing straight up.”

She puts her hands on top of her head, trying to force her hair back down.

Igor hears something. “Hey!” he says. “Guys, listen.”

Outside, somewhere from the pitch of night, a low-frequency hum emanates through the heavy canvas walls. All six of them stop to listen.

“Where is that coming from?” Viktor says.

There’s electricity in the air. The hair on their heads and naked arms are standing at attention.

A faint blue light, manifests in the air, quickly escalating to a blinding energy. So bright, even with their hands clamped over their eyes, the light burns their eyes.

Alexei screams, “I can see the bones in my hands.”

The frozen ground beneath them feels like it’s moving as a low-frequency hum builds at a fantastic rate. Their teeth begin to chatter uncontrollably, coating the inside of their mouths with flakes of tooth enamel.

“What is going on?” one of the girls yell in terror.

Everyone is in agony. They can’t stop the light from burning their eyes, or their teeth from annihilating  each other. Sprawled out on the floor of tent, they turn their faces towards the floor with no effect. Searing heat builds inside the tents, causing the bulbs inside the flashlights to explode, scattering small shards of glass.

As quickly as it began, the light, the heat, and the hum, it stops. Blood drips from their ears and noses.

“What the fuck was that?” Dominika says, her voice coarse. She starts to cough, spitting up blood laced with white gobs that were once part of their teeth.

No one answers right away, they can’t. Paralysed with fear, unable to cope.

Viktor moans in pain, he grasps his stomach as he rolls onto his side to sit upright. The blurry shapes in front of him are coming into focus. Alexei and Igor are trying to sit up too, and blood is running from Igor’s eyes.

“Sasha, Dominika, Anna. Are you okay over there?” Viktor says, blood dripping down over is beard.

Sasha says, “We’re okay, sort of.” She looks at the other two. She reaches out to each in turn, their skin is hot to the touch. She places her hand on her own arm; her skin is hot too. “What just happened?” she mumbles to herself.

Alexei, sitting upright on his knees, hears something in the distance. It’s faint, but it sounds like a mix of clicking and a high-pitched metallic screech. “What the hell is that now?”

Igor pulls back the corner flap covering the windows. He can see light moving through the forest. “Hey guys, look. Look at this.”

The girls in the other tent hear Igor and move to look outside their tent too.

“Who’s out there?” Dominika whispers to the others. “Something is definitely coming”

“Oh shit.” Anna says.

“What…what is it? Do you see something?” Igor says.

“Straight out, what the fuck is that?” Anna cups a hand over her mouth, trying not to scream.

Through the trees, three glowing figures are passing by, about 50 metres away. They’re walking, but don’t appear to be touching the ground. The group can’t distinguish any facial features, just a glowing shape resembling a humanoid. The beings stop in a small opening in the trees. They have a clear view of the tents now. A metallic screeching sound is coming from them.

“Oh my god! Are they talking? Igor says.

Alexei cups his hand over his nose. “Shit! What is that smell?”

The girls smell it too. Sasha speaks. “It smells like rotten cinnamon.”

Dominika says with a shaky voice, “Guys, what are we are going to do?” She waits for an answer. “Hey! What the fuck… are we going to do?”

At that moment, one of the creatures turns its face toward the tents.

“Oh shit.” Igor says, peering out the window. “They see us.”

“We have to get out of here, now.” Alexei yells.

Igor grabs his knife and slices the canvas to make a large opening. Standing up with his upper body well above the top of the tent, he looks at Alexei and Viktor “Run!”

He moves over to the girl’s tent and slashes hard across the roof and pulls the canvas wide, “We have to get out of here right now.”

They already had their boots on, Dominika grabs her coat and dashes off into the night. Igor turns toward the three creatures approaching, they are only 15 metres away now, the smell is overpowering.

Alexei and Viktor run blindly away from their base camp. Wearing only long johns and a t-shirt, they forget their boots and they leave barefoot. Scrambling away from intruders, they go a different direction than the others.

Igor, who is the last to leave the tent, stands with boots in hand, watching the now still visitors. He can still hear the crunching of the snow as Viktor and Alexei make their getaway. Carefully, he puts his boots on, keeping a watchful eye on the visitors. So far, they aren’t moving. Then in one fluid movement, one of the beings raises its arm directly at him, an intense, high pitched vibration penetrates his mind. After only a few excruciating seconds, he blacks-out and collapses into the snow. One of the three creatures approaches the tent and grabs Igor’s foot, dragging him away. The other two break away, one toward Sasha, Alexandra, and Anna, the other toward Alexei and Viktor.

Five minutes later, Alexei and Viktor are huddled against a large oak tree, sitting in a large depression in the snow around the base of the tree carved out by the wind.

“We’re going to die, Alexei.” Viktor says. He looks at his feet in the dark, the snow is sticking to them without melting. “I already can’t feel my feet.”

“Be quiet.” Alexei says. A faint glow illuminates the trees in front of them. “Here it comes again.”

Before Alexei has a chance to stop him, Viktor takes off running. Stunned, Alexei looks up at the glowing figure above him. Some kind of weapon is fired, but he hears nothing. There, in the darkness of the night, sitting in that wind-carved hole at the base of the oak tree, Alexei has every bone in chest crushed instantly by some unknown force.  Death is instant.

Viktor is overcome by the intense cold. Fifty metres away from where Alexei was taken by the being of light, he can no longer feel his feet or legs. His breathing has sped up, cooling his core temperature even faster. His state of panic has been replaced with devastating fatigue. Slumped against a rock, he closes his eyes and lets go, drifting off to eternity.

The girls are half a kilometre away now.

“We have to make it back to the valley.” Anna says, shaking from the intense cold. 

“We won’t make it.” Sasha says.

Dominika looks at Anna and nods. “The temperature is dropping by the minute. We have no shelter, no food, and I’m the only one with a coat.”

Dominika unzips her coat and opens it.

“What are you doing?” Sasha says.

“We’ll take turns while we walk.”

Anna looks stunned. “We can’t.”

“We have to try.” Dominika says. She hands the coat to Anna. “You first.”

She slips it on, hugging herself in the warmth. “Sasha, what about you?”

“It’s okay. We can do this. We have to try. Now let’s move.”

The three women turn and disappear into the night, armed with only one coat and an unknown being trailing somewhere out there behind them. Above, the stars blink and shine in the clear, crisp, sub-arctic air.

“Sasha, I can see something glowing behind us.” 


MARK LENTZ

I'm a 44-year-old guy currently planning my first long-distance hike. It will start on the first of May, 2016, and will cover 2518 kilometres, from Echo Lake in California to Manning Provincial Park at the British Columbia border.  This will be my biggest, grandest, most epic accomplishment in my life so far. 

PCT  (Pacific Crest Trail Organization) MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op)

hikingtrailbackpackingbackpacktenthiking shoes

 

The MindWork

By David Gurman

GT-40 roused himself from the cerebral rejuvenation capsule, flexing his telemuscle as he did so. The mindchatter was strong today; the satellites above were gearing up for the Big Connection. He plugged the nutrient conduit into the receptacle on his neck, making sure to fill it up as full as he could; he wanted to have plenty of energy for today. For this day was a monumental one in human history… in fact, it could mean the end of humanity and the beginning of something greater.

He exited his dwelling just as his neighbor, CLS-63, exited hers. A good morning to you! he greeted her via telemessage. She looked at him, smiled wanly, and replied with nothing.

What’s the matter? he telemessaged. Not excited for the Big Connection?

Well… yeah, but also kind of nervous.

Nervous? What for?

Well, once we’re tapped into everyone’s mindchatter, I don’t know what’ll happen. I feel like it’ll hurt, or something.

Nah, it won’t hurt. The MindWork promised it won’t. They wouldn’t go through with this if they weren’t absolutely sure.

They don’t know that. They can’t predict everything. They didn’t see the terrorist attacks on the relay satellites last year. They-

GT-40 interrupted. Keep it down! Do you want the monitors to hear you? You know damn well what happens to those who speak out against the MindWork. Besides, you know how much they’ve increased surveillance since then. There’s no chance at all that anything beyond their control is going to happen.

She sighed. Yes, I know. I’m sure everything will be fine. I know it will. I just can’t help being nervous.

GT-40 sent her a Good Vibes™ transmission. He felt her relax as soon as she received it. No need to worry, he telemessaged reassuringly. They know what they’re doing. Now let’s go. R-620 is set to make his speech soon. They’ll be broadcasting it on the public Teleceptor in the park.

They made their way to the TransMatter device on the corner of the street. Stepping inside, GT-40 sent a telemessage to the internal receptor of his intended destination. A second later, he stepped out of another TransMatter device, into the park. CLS-63 was soon to follow. A crowd of people had already gathered in front of the colossal Teleceptor. They made their way to the front for a better view.

It wasn’t long before the screen blipped on, showing the MindWork logo. A mindcheer rose from the crowd, which grew even louder and more intense when the logo faded to reveal the CEO of the MindWork, R-620.

He stood there for a moment, smiling, letting the applause continue. Then he raised his hand and the commotion ceased.

Thank you all for coming here today, he telemessaged to the crowd. Today is a very special day for the MindWork. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the mindchatter has been steadily on the increase. We’re proud to announce that as of this moment, 99.3% of all of humanity has now been successfully linked to the MindWork.

A huge cheer rang out again. R-620 let it continue for a bit before raising his hand once more.

This has been a long time coming. As you know, the MindWork had humble beginnings some 450 years ago, in the year 2477. My ancestors founded the company that would later become the MindWork Global Telebroadcasting Union. Back then, of course, the technology was nowhere near where it was today. It was ludicrously expensive, ridiculously complicated, and boasted a very limited range, as well as a meager selection of useful applications. But that company grew, and evolved, and brought us to where we are today, a post-human society, capable of doing virtually anything, all with the power of our minds. Dare I say it, we are close to touching the power of God!

He paused for a second, allowing that statement to sink in, before continuing on. The MindWork grew and grew. We transcended the need for a government long ago. When enough people are connected, as we are now, there is no need for a higher power to govern us, because now we ARE that higher power. We are all on the same wavelength, so to speak. But it was not always this way.

He paused again before continuing. In the past, there were many dissenters… those who illegally removed the MindWork transmitters from their bodies, and set out to sow destruction and panic amongst the good citizens of the world. After one of our satellites was attacked last year, we concentrated our efforts to eliminate this new threat. With the help of the world’s people, we tracked them all down, and imbued them with our newest innovation, which all of you carry now within your bloodstream: the special nanite particles that permit the transmission of the MindWork. And unlike our old transmitters, these cannot be removed.

He smiled. But why would you ever want to remove them? Think about it. We as humanity have accomplished so much since the creation of the MindWork. The end of all conflict, all strife, all sadness, all loneliness… being tapped into the MindWork creates limitless possibilities. You can send anything to anyone via the MindWork… thoughts, memories, emotions… why, we’ve even harnessed the ability to transmit ourselves through space. All thanks to the MindWork. And best of all, the MindWork will never fail, because it is powered by each and every one of you. Your literal lifeblood is what keeps it going, and as long as humanity exists, the MindWork will too.

We have come so far, he continued. Our vocal cords withered away centuries ago… we had no use for them, as mindchatter made speaking redundant. We eradicated mental illness, as thoughts and emotions can now be programmed directly via the MindWork. All we ask in return is that we let us monitor you, to ensure your safety and the safety of the MindWork as a whole. Is that not a reasonable request for all the benefits we provide?

But enough talk! This isn’t why you’ve come here today. You’ve come here to witness firsthand the birth of a new era. For when I push this button, he proclaimed, gesturing to a large red button on a console behind him, the relay satellites increase their power output, enabling every single person on earth to be simultaneously connected. And when that happens, we will truly have transcended humanity. We will have reached a new level of consciousness.

He made his way over to the console. Rejoice, good people of the world! And take your last breath as the simple humans you are. Because when I push this button, you will be born anew. You will be something much, much more than human. And with that, he pushed the button.

Nothing happened for a moment. Then, on the screen, R-620 noticeably grimaced. A large vein pulsed in his temple. Ahhhhh… he groaned. People in the crowd glanced at each other. GT-40 managed to catch snippets of the mindchatter flying about. It sounded nervous and uneasy.

R-620 clasped his head in his hands. Ahhhhhh! he cried with his mind. His mouth was wide open in a silent scream, and he would doubtlessly have been screaming for real if he still had the use of his vocal cords. But instead of sound, what came rushing out of his mouth (and nose and ears) was blood. His eyes bulged out of their sockets, and then burst. He continued to scream soundlessly within everyone’s mind for another five seconds before keeling over, out of the view of the Teleceptor’s pickup apparatus.

The crowd’s mindchatter exploded in a fury of panic. People began to run about, crashing into each other, trampling each other underfoot. GT-40 turned and began to flee as well, but suddenly stopped. Something was building inside his mind. He could feel it coming in from somewhere, like a colossal pipe with a torrent of water rushing out of it. It was the mindchatter of every single person in the world. Now that the button had been pushed, it was all coming through. Unmeasurable amounts of data and information were being broadcast directly into his brain.

When it hit, it felt like a star had exploded inside his brain. The pain was incredible. Every single thought, emotion, and conceivable form of stimulus was happening inside his head all at once. Blood gushed from his orifices. He saw CLS-63 collapse, her head nothing more than a gory mess. Before his eyes blew out, he saw that every single person in the park was experiencing the same fate. No one could handle the pure, concentrated, complete power of the MindWork. Then his eyeballs did blow out, and he saw no more.

In his last few moments of darkness, before the life slipped out of him, the sound and sensation in his head grew and grew. And just before his brain exploded in his skull, the feeling inside his head became something else. Something more powerful than he could ever comprehend. Something that he, and humanity as a whole, was too weak and primitive to hear. Something forbidden for the minds of mortal men.

In the final second of his life, he realized he was hearing the sound of God.


David has never been a big fan of veggies, but because he loves you guys so much he started this blog just for you. He currently attends the professional writing program at Algonquin College and spends his free time trying not to take anything too seriously.

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A Childish View

By Katerina Glowienka 

Outside, he was teaching me how to make a horn noise from a single blade of grass. Ryan held the blade between his long, thin hands and made a funny face. The sound that came from his blown-up face made me giggle. I rolled on the ground, the laughter bubbling up inside of me. Brett was busy gardening behind us, his hands and under his nails covered in dirt.

“You’re playing with cow poop!” Ryan snickered at his older brother, and then smirked at me.

“But he’s really good at it,” I chimed in, trying to be friendly. Brett had been my favourite since I was born. The front screen door swung open, creaking loudly on its hinges. Laurel’s long black hair floated behind her as her legs stretched out in front of her. She was what I wanted to be when I grew up, mysterious, always in black, no-one ever sure whether she was being serious or joking.

“Lunch.”

She set down a beige tray with mini sandwiches and fruit. But as she turned, I could see her limbs tense. Her eyes narrowed at something in the distance. Confused, I stopped what I was doing and turned as well. There, storming up the stone walkway, was a massive guy. His arms had to be the same size as my torso. In his meaty fingers was a baseball bat, and he was swinging it like he was about to hit a home run.

“Michael, what are you doing here?” Laurel’s voice shook. I wasn’t sure why. Weren’t they together? Maybe he just wanted to visit her while she babysat her brothers and me, their 13-year-old cousin. It would be sweet of him to keep her company. We were probably boring her. I flinched away when Michael swung the bat and it connected with Laurel’s skull.

“Stop!” Brett had been watching, no longer absorbed in his gardening. Michael raised his arm again, swearing and using words I had never heard before.

Although I don’t remember much after that, I know far more about that day seven years later. Michael had anger-management issues, and he and Laurel had their troubles. His pain and hurt from Laurel ending their relationship got the better of him, causing him to snap. I still wonder just how bad someone has to feel to do such a thing to someone they once loved.

Mum said Laurel wouldn’t be around anymore, that she was in a better place. What does a better place mean? I sat crossed legged on Mum and Dad’s bed, hugging our fluffy, ginger cat, Watson. Mum patted my head and then wiped at her eyes. Loud discussions were coming from down the hall. There were so many people in my house that it was worse than my birthday and Christmas Eve combined.

“You’re going to stay with Adam and Aunt Angie.” Mum began to dig through her closet. “It’ll only be until all of this is done, OK sweetheart?”

I like staying with Adam. We always have fun playing his video games. His mum lets us use the computer as well. I snuggle Watson, burying my nose into his warm, soft fur. He makes this weird mew I’ve never heard before. My Dad sticks his head around the open door, his big green eyes red, just like Mum’s.

“George wants you to go see Laurel,” Dad whispers, not looking at me. No one is looking at me, and everyone’s eyes are red. I don’t understand why I’m not going to see Laurel for Easter. “Here kiddo, I’ll pack your clothes for you.” He takes over what Mum is doing, and she hides her face in her hands.

“I’ll be back later.” She hugs Dad extremely tight and I can see her shoulders shake. Is she cold? It’s warm to me, but it’s also February.

A while later, Dad takes my hand and walks me out of their room into the living/dining room, where everyone is in black. They are matching, and I wish I could be matching as well. My throat seizes up with discomfort. Watson follows behind us, but then runs away. Our whole house is filled with flowers, making it look like a rainforest. My grandma comes and hugs me close, her shoulders shaking just like Mum’s did. It makes me sad to see everyone crying, but I don’t know what happened. Should I be crying too? Dad tells me to go around and hug everyone, that kids make these things better. What things? I do what I’m told and make my rounds. Once I finish, Dad picks me up into his arms, something he hasn’t done in a long time. His aftershave smells strong and it makes my nose tickle. He’s stronger than he looks and I’m pretty lanky and thin, allowing him to pick me up even at thirteen.

“All right sport, you’re going to go with Aunt Angie now, just for the weekend.” He squeezes me against him.

“It’s okay Dad.” I pat his head like mum did to me and he tears up.

“You’re so brave.” He sets me down and I don’t know what he’s talking about.

“It’s just me.” I lift my shoulders up and down, excited to see my cousin Adam.

Laurel passed away in the hospital. I look back at home videos and I can see that something wasn’t right. She wasn’t right. She had to be suffering from depression, and part of me assumes now that it was the abuse her boyfriend was dishing out to her before he fully snapped. There’s one particular home video I like to watch, which depicts pretty accurately how Laurel was around us. It was my birthday party and I was five. Brett, Ryan and two other cousins were lined up behind me to play pin the tail on the donkey. Laurel sat five feet away, curled on the couch. Her dark, thick black hair covered her, like shutters on a window. Her eyes were dark, too dark. She barely spoke and she barely smiled. But in the video you can see her watching us, and my father attempts to have a conversation with her while he films the kids. I never knew too much about her, because I was too young and we never really spoke. When she did babysit, it was Brett and Ryan who looked after me and played games with me. Two days later, her father – my uncle – passed away from a brain aneurysm we had no idea existed. Now, I think it’s more a symptom of stress and a broken heart.

Michael was seventeen going on eighteen, making this case very difficult. He was sent to a juvenile correction facility, despite my family and multiple lawyers fighting for the right thing. He had murdered someone, with serious intent of doing so. Michael should have been treated like any other criminal, but instead he was still a “teenager,” a “troubled boy.” He refused all the help handed to him while in jail. But he went on chaperoned trips to the beach, he was able to play the latest Xbox video games, and have a substantial lunch. I find this, as a tax-paying adult, nauseating. Michael had only five years in the correctional facility with parole. Currently, he is out living his life and being a part of society.

Fast forward two days: after my mother called the shots to remove her niece from life support, because her own parents couldn’t do it, Laurel’s father passed away. George was as healthy as they come. Being in construction, physical labour was a daily element for him. He had quit smoking fairly early on and proof from his doctors showed his lungs had not been affected. Although I don’t remember having the discussion with my parents that Laurel’s father had a brain aneurysm, I know that they spoke to me about it. My mother, two days after having to end my cousin’s life, now had to make the decision on how to handle her brother’s fate. His brain had lost oxygen, as well as been flooded with blood. The mysterious burst of the blood vessel hadn’t been random at all. Despite the shock, doctors proved that the vessel had been blocked for some time and was like a balloon building pressure.

Mum was around the house more than she ever use to be, but I never saw her. She stopped showing up to dinner and her bedroom door was always closed.

“Is mom joining us tonight?” I asked my father one night as we popped Indiana Jones into the DVD player.

“No, she has work to do,” he answered flatly, not removing his eyes from the TV. I had hoped that maybe with her being home, we could spend more time together, but it seemed she had no interest in me or my father. All I wanted was to go shopping with her, or for her to drive me to school. It wasn’t fair that she wouldn’t let me into her bedroom, or that she would eat after us, not bothering to speak.

At thirteen, I couldn’t begin to understand what my mother was going through. I labeled her selfish, thinking she didn’t want to see my father and me anymore. But it wasn’t until years later that I understood what was happening. Now, it makes sense that she had depression. I remember being out shopping with my mother after having a fight over my own case of depression. It was something we often did, fight and then go shopping as a form of reconciliation. We didn’t have to speak about important things, we could hold up a sweater and ask if the other liked it. There were no heavy conversations. It was that one day, as a seventeen-year-old dealing with her own self-loathing, that I felt what could be the closest thing my mother has been dealing with inside of her. Being forced to choose if your niece lives or dies, as well as your own brother, changes a person. She lost two people in the course of three days, and I was being a moody teenager, unaware and assuming it was all about me. We still do not talk about it, it’s become something we avoid. We speak about George and Laurel as if they are still alive; we never state that they are dead and no longer a part of our lives. As a family, we can talk about my uncle and my cousin, reminisce about Christmases with them or funny events. But if we remotely come close to the idea that they are no longer living, my mother shuts down. My grandmother, on the other hand, had been through a lot, even prior to all of that. She had been through three failed marriages, and now, her eldest son had passed away on her birthday. As a child, I had no idea this was a factor in her depression, and led to her hard-ass personality, which she maintains to this day. The death of her son and her granddaughter put as much stress on her as it did my mother. Looking back as an adult, I can see the differences those deaths made. We used to throw laundry at each other and play silly games when I was home from school for lunch. Since then, we barely speak. I hardly speak to my own mother because part of me still has that childish, teenage disgust about how she shut down, how she practically left my father and me for months to fend for ourselves. It’s not fair, but when you’re put through something as brutal as losing two people in a matter of days, it can affect you deeply and for a long time.

Perceptions change, especially with age, but sometimes the effects of that remain. It’s still difficult to swallow the fact that two of my family members are gone, and not just a grandparent from old age. Life isn’t fair, I learned, it’s random. But despite all of the hurt I watched my family go through, we know better than anyone to cherish those around you every day. Do no overlook people’s place in your life, because once they’re missing, that’s when you need them. Although I had only lost two people, it was as if I had lost my mother as well.


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Katerina Glowienka

I'm a twenty-year-old avid writer, who has recently been diagnosed with a gluten allergy, and newly turned vegan. I'm attempting to help others learn how to cook and eat healthy, while on a college student budget.

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Jack and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Journal

By Jack Lytle

It must have been dropped since the last rain since it has no water damage. Its cover is a grid of pink, green, yellow, and orange squares, all individually convex. They have been treated with a gloss, making 77 coloured reflections of yourself observe you with the same interest that you do them. It was supposed to rain later that day, so my archival instincts kicked in and I included it in my bag. I assumed there would be references within it that would allow me to detect the identity or location of its author, so I brought it home without any guilt.


It's crass. & in this moment it feels contrived. But with every passing pen stroke I narrow the canyon between me & the present moment. Running in time with colour. More focus on individual words than phrases. The slight intrusion in my mind of an idea, then a mosaic. Then, it's not true. Subtlety escaping my ears as hot gas leaving my jaw clenched and lip quivering. I return to the origin point. The warm quilt of comfort ability. It gets me high and stills my mind, caresses my flesh & ties bowling balls to my eyelids. I am a bag of flour. An arm attached to my body feeds me spoonfuls of flour by no will of my own. I resist it & my stomach expands. It gets me upset & all my eyelashes fall out, blinding me. I laugh at the irony & my body becomes a liquid, reducing my laptop to a hunk of earth. I spill over my mattress & soak into the hard wood. For an eternity I spread across the concrete of the basement floor in ecstasy. When I awake I am hair falling to the floor having just been clipped from a beast in a barber's chair. I bounce on the floor.

*This reality lasts only moments.

Evidence that the journal was free-written was riddled within the passage. The wanton rhythm seemed to be the result of a lack of a planned narrative. Instead, it used language to dance closer to absolute presence. The writer sometimes writes him or herself into a paradoxical loop.

But with every passing pen stroke I narrow the canyon between me & the present moment.

How can one possibly reach the present moment if they regard their progress whatsoever? Regardless, the passage was intoxicating. After reading, it felt as if magnets were in the couch, powerful enough to claw at the iron in my blood. I just wanted to relax my jaw and let my head fall back. The intensity was increasing exponentially. As the journal burned closer to the moment of presence, I would inhale deeply at its exhaust.

Hours passing without my knowledge like trying to hold sand in open hands.

The grease that coats my sin sinks me back into the now.

There is a sexuality to what I do. Not a perversion in any sense.

But the fragility in alignment with thoughtless concentration.

Action without deliberation.

Knelt with multicoloured wires weaving through my fingers, the legend tattooed to the inside of my eyelids, I raise my head to find complex sequential lights firing off.

The thing shudders.

I gave my skin to the journal. I allowed its imagery to pulse through my thoughts. The honesty in the poem stepped into my skin, and acted out moods and environments through empathetic puppetry. The sensation I got after reading a passage was satisfying enough to last an entire night, although it was impossible to stop anywhere specific.

Feeling lately that all outside of my mind is like a screen, video game, or computer program. An external, sterile, sometimes fleshy and textured collection of code & every single moment is

Right in the middle of a sentence? After all that connection, and it left me with an incomplete thought? I was jealous of the writer's distraction. This half-thought gave me the courage to close the journal. I lay in bed trying to imagine a suitable ending for the passage. I found it impossible to reverse the empathetic process, and puppet my thoughts through their voice. I considered that maybe my strong emotional response to the fragmented passage could be an indicator that it was an intentional cliffhanger.

I managed to go two days without reading further. I was proud, I was independent. I was a free man and no literature could tie me down! Except my ice-cream bucket was getting shallow. My desire for relationship thickened.

I decided I would give it another chance, although this time I would make clear to it that I couldn't date a journal who just cuts sentences in half. We had to hash these things out before I committed myself again. I blew off some human friends and resumed reading that night.

1. Thou shalt learn the conventional wisdom.

·       Imitate before you create

·       know what is expected

2. Thou shalt develop solid working habits

·       A writer who waits for ideal conditions will die without ever putting work on paper

·       Don't wait to be inspired

3. Thou shalt get better on thine instrument

·       Provide yourself opportunity

·       Write away from your instrument, (write in your mind rather than stepping into your comfort zone) 4.Thou shalt write from the specific to the universal

4.The details of your life ring authenticity

·       Personal detail—pulling back to worldwide

·       Rarely linear

5.Thou shalt write then thou shalt rewrite

·       The first draft is shit

6. Thou shalt not engage the left side of the brain until the right is finished

·       You can't write and edit at the same time

·       When you hit a block your left brain is getting involved, walk away

7.Thou shalt nurture thy subconscious

·       Broaden your horizon

·       Music will come through the subconscious

I asked for complete information, and it was delivered. The desire to self-improve warmed my chest. Well, maybe that was the push-ups I was doing after I read the Seven Commandments. Consider though, that the inspiration for the push-ups came from the Seven Commandments. I just wanted to take all mouldable aspects of my routine and massage these nuggets of improvement into them. This passage corrected my posture. I was pleased with the journal, I really wanted it to know that it wasn't just any journal to me. It was the journal. ‘Til bookworms do us part.

Man bites dog

Tango in Paris

Beyond lies the words

Piper in the woods

Second variety

Wrong

Breaking the vows

The five obstructions

Dogville

Wings of desire

Manhattan

The journal and I finally committed to sexual connection through a mutual understanding of imperfection. The journal massaged the prostate on my brain that deals with association. I felt my voice shining between certain syllables. I was so influenced by previous readings that I had been complemented by the journal's soul. This perception graft could predict the intended mood swings of the next lines of the poem. Reading felt interactive. While I read, I was participating in a three-legged experience. Together, the journal and I harmonized to each other's brainwaves in a way that could only be categorized as sexual.

Dazed & Awake – Aerial M

Out of breath and grinning a little, the journal put a song on. Well, I did physically, but it was its choice of song. A couple of down-tempo guitars joined us in our mind. They were respectful of our experiences and did not try to compete with our connection. Or I just didn't like the song. I didn't read again until the next afternoon.

Yellow

Black Velvet

Sand

Stop

Paranormal

Visual (distance)

Dissatisfaction

Obviously a little upset at my silence after sex, the journal was being a little choppy. I understood, but tried to explain that I had educational obligations that were more important than reading a journal I found on the ground.

1, 7, 13, 19, 25, 31

I kill all my house plants

I was surprised that the journal would so boldly threaten to become one consisting of only numerical pass-codes and pessimistic quips. I realized I was being a total jerk, giving some other stupid assignment my primary attention. I apologized. Seventy-seven rainbow Jacks looked back at me and told me with their 154 eyes that I was to be forgiven.

Vision is the least satisfying of the senses

There can be no relationship between the

Content & the perceiver

But it's hypnotic

Attentiveness to relativity (size) &

Attributes brings me into a trance

It doesn't take thought form/definition

Just attention

Magnification happens instinctively. This phenomenon is unique to this sense

The journal relays the passage I would have read if I were more receptive after sex. A clear and concise explanation of the trivialities of sight. An odd choice of subject for something bound without eyes of its own. I found a passage in the back of the book that had been ripped out. One that was annoyingly human.

I want to write an album. My attention span is incredibly weak since coming to Ottawa. I haven't written one full song. My goal in coming here was to become hyper & instead I'm met by a cobweb version of myself. I want to write an album. I want to start now, ( November 15th) and have it mixed in January/February. I can't stop feeling like I need more intake I.E more information before starting. I know that the more I write & calibrate my problems the better I'll get. I get frustrated when I don't meet my standards off the bat. Harold Budd is phenom. I'll set very low expectations. Something ambient, slow, chord heavy, sad, rhythmic or atmospheric textural experiments. Impressionism met by surrealism. Surrealism as impressionism. Lianne. It'll be happy. I have a Lianne. Avalon sutra. Gas. Fingertips. Cold water. Comfortably not numbness. Meditation into thoughtless laughter

Echoing.

Finding out there was someone else to absorb the information was difficult. I wanted the journal to be happy, sure. I just wish I could have been the one to inspire the journal to continue. I want to feed my meat into the journal's intellectual grinder and have my name pumped into the passages like a sausage. I don't have the confidence though. I would have to locate the original writer, and influence them enough that they would journal about me. I'm not interested in the dangerous and shifting emotions of a human. I wish I, too, could be scripture.


Jack is a professional writer in training, but already is a seasoned unprofessional cook. He enjoys both activities equally, though one satisfies his soul, the other his stomach.

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For the Love of a Pumpkin

By Rina Gibbons

“Mommy, I think Uncle Kal’s dogs don’t know who I am because I’m wearing a costume.”

I looked at my five-year-old like she had just recited the first 100 digits of pi. We were heading down the stairs of my brother’s Barrhaven McMansion, the last stop before heading home to the tiny townhouse we shared with my parents. Passing his pair of Audis, we got into my father’s Chevy Malibu. Only the letters alibu remained. The disparity of our circumstances didn’t bother me today. My child had put her feet in someone else’s shoes. Paws to be exact, but let’s not split fur. This was a moment I thought would never happen.

She has autism.

The Carbone Clinic provides behavior analytic services to children with autism. They define the “Theory of Mind” (TOM) as, “a specific cognitive ability to understand others as intentional agents, that is, to interpret their minds in terms of theoretical concepts of intentional states such as beliefs and desires.” Imagine you were to show a child a candy box that was filled instead with marbles. Then ask them: If someone else was given the closed box, what would that person think was inside? If TOM was developed, the child would say, “Candy.” A deficiency in TOM means they would say, “Marbles.” They cannot put themselves into the mind of another.

I thought my daughter’s answer would always be marbles.

 THE TSA AGENT STARE

THE TSA AGENT STARE

***

 I hate the word autism. It does not define her. She has chocolate almond-shaped eyes that download you with the intensity of a TSA agent. When she smiles, you find yourself at the end of a rainbow. A fortune has been paid to plastic surgeons to acquire the nose nature has bestowed her. Her laugh sounds like the tinkling of wind chimes, and her punch would rival Bruce Lee’s. That’s my daughter. But when she is sitting under the table at a restaurant, screeching incoherently, banging her shoe on the floor, and all eyes are on the unfit mother of the demon child, those words invariably escape. “She has autism.” The looks turn to pity, as I hand over my Get Out Of Jail Free card.

***

Discreetly I counted; three white, one black, two East Indian, one Asian, and one perhaps Middle Eastern. Most of us look like we are in our thirties, a couple older and one younger. There was another single mother, too. Unfortunately, she didn’t speak much English. My French is passable, but we never connected, though we did cry more than the others. Couples can take turns being strong; we didn’t have that luxury. Here, in a group of strangers, we could be weak. In the end though, almost everyone cried. We were, after all, parents of high-functioning autistic children.

Helpguide.org tells us, “Autism is a spectrum disorder. This means there is a wide degree of variation in the way it affects people…Every individual has problems to some degree with social skills, empathy, communication, and flexible behavior. But the level of disability and the combination of symptoms varies tremendously from person to person.”

Outwardly our children were different. Yet, when a parent was given a few minutes to describe their child, each one was beautiful, charming, funny, loving, and extremely intelligent. None of our children were judgmental, dishonest, cruel, or held a grudge. That’s what we had in common; sweet, gentle progeny who would no doubt become easy pickings on the playground because of their eccentric ways. They were quirky and awkward, with brains that process information not just outside, but nowhere near the box. I told my daughter one day, “Honey don’t touch the knife. It’s sharp, and it can hurt you.”

“Won’t it hurt the food then?” was her response.

Our support group session was held in the staff lunchroom. The facilitator handed each parent a page to read; it was the well-known parable for the parents of children with disabilities, Welcome to Holland. You have wanted to go to Italy your whole life; everyone tells you how amazing it is. You plan for it, book your hotel, and you are finally on your way. But when your plane lands, you are told you are in Holland. You don’t know a thing about Holland; you are confused and upset. So you find a guide book and eventually experience all the wonderful things about Holland. At first read it’s clever, and you may even smile. But autism is not Holland. No windmills gracefully turn in the breeze, and you aren’t wearing cute wooden shoes. There are meltdowns that last hours, later nights than other parents have because autistic children rarely sleep, and an endless list of appointments with doctors, therapists, special-needs workers, learning-support teachers, IEP meetings, ABA sessions, and so on. Holland won’t pull out a clump of your hair and head butt you in the stomach because you can’t get the wi-fi to connect.

***

 “She’s a thinker; you can see how smart she is.”

“She’s a late bloomer, and she will catch up.”

“Einstein didn’t talk until he was four.”

“She will talk when she has something to say.”

I heard well-meaning statements from mothers at playgroup meant to alleviate the notion that something was not quite right. Justin was telling his mom which of the dinosaurs ate grass and Tony explained a game he invented where I had to jump over all the blue lines on the floor. Meanwhile, Indika at age two, was staring out the window or endlessly walking in circles around the play stations with her chosen toy of the day clenched tightly in her fist. Her therapists would later call it her “fidget toy.”

Our family doctor, whom I now despise, told me that children develop at different rates and not to compare them. Almost every appointment for two years, she ushered me out of her office with a similar sounding statement and a pat on the arm. With a veneered smile, she would already be looking past me to her next patient.

When actual sentences finally came out of my daughter’s mouth, relief settled me into blissful ignorance. It was while watching her favorite television show, The Backyardigans, when my bubble burst. I heard word-for-word, the same phrases she had been repeating for the past 10 months. The fact that they were in perfect context had delayed my realization. Through careful Googling, I came across the term echolalia, a common symptom of autism. The despised doctor dismissed me yet again when I brought it to her attention. “All children go through this stage. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal.”

***

 On a trip to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) to treat my daughter’s dehydration (she couldn’t eat or drink after major dental surgery), we met the doctor who would change our future. She didn’t have the pat-you-on-the-hand, everything-will-be-alright bedside manner. She was six feet tall and no-nonsense direct, and she knew what she saw. In fewer than 10 minutes with my daughter, she had sent us on our way with a referral to a developmental pediatrician and an appointment with a community-based organization called First Words.

Somehow I ended up in the car. I remember the rage that made every nerve ending in my body white hot. For two years I had been ignored and dismissed. I wanted to throttle our physician. I was also angry with myself. Why did I listen to the other parents? Why didn’t I go to another doctor? Why wasn’t I doing more research?

First Words was first-come first-served and opened at 9 a.m. By 8, the waiting room was already overcrowded with toddlers and their furrowed-brow parents. My Indika was four and clearly the oldest. Within minutes of my daughter’s interview, I was told that there was no point in continuing. We would be contacted by the Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre (OCTC).

In the interim, we had our appointment with the specialist on child development. He spent two hours with us and concluded that my daughter could not be autistic. This was primarily based on the fact that she was able to put a piece of trash into the garbage can without any of us prompting her. I was relieved, but it was short-lived.

***

 My daughter’s hands were flapping in the air like a fairy about to take flight. The OCTC doctor scratched something on her notepad and the psychologist began nodding, as if agreeing with what she had written, though she was sitting across the room. “How many times a day does she do this?” she asked me, and I didn’t want to answer, because I already knew what it meant. The rest of the interview followed the same trajectory. I reluctantly answered the questions that brought us one step closer to her diagnosis.

I had officially entered the realm of autism. A piece of paper signed by the doctor confirmed that she was the one in 68. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in May, 2014, that one in 68 children have Autism Spectrum Disorder. In 2003, it was one in 166.

What the hell is going on with our children?

There are theories. A study in Denmark, which is renowned for its excellent medical record systems, proposes that it is the expansion of the diagnostic criteria which has widened the definition of autism. The numbers haven’t increased, but how we diagnose the condition has. Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou suggests that access to systems and institutions that diagnose and evaluate autism has increased. One in 61 children in southeastern Ontario compared to one in 100 in Manitoba shows a large geographic variability. Then there are those who attribute genetics, mercury from vaccines, GMOs, pesticides, and other environmental factors. The truth is, no one knows and everything seems to be fair game.

***

 I began Internet searches the moment my daughter’s eyes closed each night; they ended when I would rest the red-rimmed slits of mine for just a second. I wiped dried drool off my iPad every morning. Within a month, I had to change our data plan to unlimited. It was my fault; I blamed myself for everything that went wrong during my pregnancy. I hadn’t eaten enough because of all-day morning sickness. She hadn’t received enough iron and omegas. Stress during pregnancy from the emotional and physical abuse I endured from her father culminated at 36 weeks, when he kicked me in the stomach. I was induced and received an excess amount of the drug Pitocin. For months, my life spun in circles around the question that could never be answered: why? After months of self-blame, I met mothers who had perfect pregnancies, supportive husbands, balanced diets, and conventional deliveries. Their children were also autistic. So I let it go. Finally I slept a whole night, without nightmares.

***

 Having a child with autism is a loss I felt ashamed to admit, especially with weekly trips to CHEO where cancer-stricken children are on deathbeds, and others need organ transplants. Although I could empathize with those parents’ pain, it didn’t take away from my own. The guilt that resulted was overwhelming. Most parents want the world for their children. We envision a future with giggling best-friend sleepovers, high school and university graduations, successful careers, happy marriages and healthy, beautiful grandchildren. Would my child ever experience those things? Would she be tied to me for her entire life because she could not conform to the neurotypical world? (Parents of autistic children use that word instead of normal, but that’s what we mean.) Will she ever relate to her peers? Would her language abilities catch up to the rest?

She starting reading words when she was 18 months old. According to autism.org.uk, “Hyperlexia is characterised by an intense fascination with letters or numbers or, in younger people, an ability to read far beyond their age. People with hyperlexia may, nevertheless, have difficulty understanding verbal language and interacting and socializing with others.”

Two and a half years later, she was reading at a fourth-grade level and doing second-grade math equations, but not uttering a spontaneous sentence.

At the time, I would have given all my limbs to have a neurotypical child, one who didn’t shout out the word “Muffin!” a hundred times a day and collapse into a fit of hysterics each time. Developing the patience of saints and spiritual leaders was beyond my skill set. I didn’t want to spend my weekends filling out endless forms and paperwork, begging charities for grants, and hounding the government for services. I was not an advocate. I just wanted to be a regular mother. Parenting alone was hard enough; I had no shoulder to cry on. Why couldn’t autism only happen to wealthy, well-adjusted parental units with the funds to afford costly therapies and the support structure to withstand the brutality of autism? There were days that I couldn’t leave my bed. Mornings that I spent curled in a fetal position on the basement floor, avoiding the shrieking child one floor above. Living with my parents was the only way we got through those days.

***

 I know exactly when it happened. It was during the year I decided not to work and live off the funds I was saving for my own home. I could not afford $130/hr. therapies for my daughter. Instead, I learned as much as I could from the therapists at OCTC, took out every book on autism from the library, and started using the internet wisely to search for home-based therapy. I was going to fix her, or at least get her kindergarten-ready. Each day we attended playgroups or had play-dates where I would coach her on how to play with other children. Then one day my daughter said, “Mommy, can I have a play-date with you?” That was the day I stopped being the teacher/therapist and became her best friend. I finally understood: she was still a child and she needed the old me back. Since the diagnosis, she had lost me to books, the internet, and my own selfish pity. I stopped it all, and every day for that summer we just played. We went to the library, splash pads, and playgrounds. Some days, we just lay on our backs in the park and silently watched the clouds go by. She finally learned how to ride a bicycle. After two years of not understanding how to pedal, she just got it. She figured out how to wipe her bottom. No small feat.

***

 my pumpkin

my pumpkin

 September came. School started and Indika began to blossom. Now she’s turning into a chatterbox, and only says muffin when she wants one. We still have days. Yesterday she punched me 17 times; I still don’t know why. But those days are farther apart. She doesn’t make new friends, but plays well with the children of my friends.

I was riding the bus sometime before Halloween and passed a field of pumpkins. Each pumpkin was different from the next: round ones, oblong ones, and ones with blemishes. Not one was like its neighbour, yet each one was still a pumpkin. Even a perfect pumpkin would not be like another. That field of pumpkins broke through my last wall.

I am ready to tackle life head on, whatever may come. I am a mother, an advocate, and a best friend. And she is my pumpkin.


Rina Gibbons

Rina Gibbons is the mom of a self-proclaimed 5-year-old “Wild Child” - apparently the apple landed right next to the tree. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree and is now in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. Having travelled to over 20 countries she has recently realized Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.”

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She Was Still Alive

By Daniel Hendrikx

I kick in the door, the wood splintering underneath my heel, and the doorknob flew off into the darkness of her room. There was no reaction from her at all, just a muffled sob in the corner, a weak, pitiful skip in the silence. I find the light switch by memory – I was no stranger to this – but it still hit me like a train to see her. She lay curled on her side, a puddle of vomit dripping out of her heaving, twitching frame, and blood poured from her open wrist, with the knife being swept away by the tide of liquid spreading away from the girl I love so much.

Time slows down in these situations – anybody to witness an event like this could agree with me. You get the reversed-tunnel vision and you see everything. The knife on the ground, the open bottle of pills dropped aside. The trail of dripped blood spaced out, leading from her mirror to her dying frame. The vomit sprayed in a pool. The god-damned number of tablets on the side of the bottle and the four lying discarded – she had ingested twenty-eight Tylenol-3, slit both her wrists, and she was on the brink of death. 

“Fuck! Guys!” I bellow, and I hear the commotion downstairs. I had been the one to receive the call from her friend, so worried about her, and I knew my sister well enough to tell I didn’t have time to get the family. I slid to my knees in front of her, turning her to her back. I looked her up and down quickly – the scarred, burned frame she tortured so heartily without any of us knowing.

“Vincent! Get help!” I roar, and I hear feet running for a phone. I try and break down the situation into a solvable issue. She has two deep, deep gashes in her left wrist, but there’s no pressure behind the blood flow. She missed every artery and vein. The cuts were horizontal, though – an accident.

Across for emotion and up for effect.

She heaves again. I rotate her head, shoving two fingers down her throat. She gags, retches, and I remove them fast. She contorts, snaps forwards, and the vomit dribbles down my arm, soaking my shirt through and splattering onto the ground.

I look back and forth, then tear off her pillowcase, twisting it into a kneaded rope, then wrap it tightly near her elbow. The blood flow decreases almost immediately, but I’m not looking for a tourniquet. I’m buying her time.

“I’m sorry,” she gurgles, tears bleeding from her eyes. Her mascara is streaming down her face, black war paint baring the soul of this beautiful girl.

“Shut up,” I murmur. “I love you. Stay still.”

It’s only been a few seconds, but it feels like eternity to me. There are two deadly factors at play and I don’t have time to fix both. I settle on the blood loss. That needs to stop. It had slowed, but that wasn’t nearly enough. I’d practiced this shit often, too often.

I grab an old rag off the floor. Fuck any infections. That is a problem for later – if there is a later. This is bad.

“Guys!” I bellow, and suddenly the door is a crowd of my family. My mother is on the phone, calling the hospital, and my brothers are jamming their way through the door.

“Get some fucking towels!” I yell, taking command immediately. Despite being the middle child this bullshit is my forte; they trust me here. I know my role and they know theirs. They rush out of the room immediately while my mother stands in the doorway, the phone in her hand.

I’m still in my own frame of time, binding her left arm as best I can with the towel. I’m covering the deepest parts, gently keeping pressure on the wound, and she’s recoiling from my touch, sobbing uncontrollably. I can’t bind the right one yet, but it really isn’t too deep. Right now, it’s not a problem. She keeps murmuring over and over again, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” with her head lolling back and forth. She’s slowly going unconscious and I’m terrified, but I’m barely registering it. I’ve been in the room for less than a minute, but she’s slipping fast.

“Shut up,” I say. “It’s not your goddamn fault. Can you hear me?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Fuck.

She can’t hear me anymore. When somebody attempts something like this they aren’t aware of it half the time anyway, but she’s employed a popular survivalist technique – displacing her mind from her body in order to keep them from interfering with one another. With mental illnesses that’s a popular reaction. She’s trusted her life to fate now, but I don’t accept that. It’s in my hands right now. She was still alive.

I prop myself onto one knee, grabbing her by the bicep and lifting her into the air. She’s entirely limp, lifeless, and she isn’t muttering anymore. She’s unconscious now. I throw the arm around my neck. I have to keep her head elevated so she doesn’t choke on her own vomit, but I can’t lift her too high, else the blood flow will begin pouring again. She’s heavy, heavier than she used to be, but it’s been a few months since the last attempt. I don’t really register it anyways – I’m in a dead-set state of mind, getting this girl downstairs.

I get her out the door, scratching my arm to hell on the splintered remains of the latch, but I don’t notice the blood. I’m grunting with the weight of my dying sister in my arms, and it’s tearing me apart bit by bit. My brothers return from the bathroom, but I push past them. I need to get her to the table downstairs before she bleeds out.

I’m calmer now than I was a few seconds ago. I’ve employed the same tactic she has: I’m aware of the pain in my arm and the stress on my back, but I don’t quite realize it. I can smell the blood from her arms soaking into the towel. It’s already stained a deep red. She begins retching again when we’re halfway down the stairs and I swear, leaning backwards to compensate for her jerking, snapping movements. Again, my shirt soaks up most of the vomit. I tilt her backwards to ensure it doesn’t get into her wound, the one I haven’t bandaged.

I don’t feel a thing. I’m not angry, or concerned, or even scared. I’ve blocked it all out, and I feel like I’m watching the situation from outside. I’m not aware of any personal thoughts on the matter. Every motion as I carry her to the table, leaning backwards and slowly lowering her as my brothers kick everything from the table onto the floor, it’s all appearing practiced and calm. I’ve done this before, and odds are I’ll do it again.

I hear a siren in the distance, biting through the dead silence of the night. I get my arms free and hit the light switch. My mother flies into the room behind me, panicked and yelling.

“What is this? What’s happened? What’s going on? Is she okay? What are you doing?”

I spread her arms on the table thoughtfully. “Please be quiet.”

“What’s going on? I called the ambulance but I didn’t know what to tell them!”

I turn to her, suddenly angry. “Every fucking time! Come on! Go upstairs. Get the pill bottle, put the spares back into it, and throw a towel on the floor. David! Flag down the goddamn ambulance, okay? And move your fucking car, they won’t be able to get to the house. Get them in here as soon as fucking possible.”

My younger brother stands quiet as the other two fly out of the room. My older sister is on the phone already, probably calling somebody to come keep an eye on him. I know he feels lost, but I don’t have thoughts to spare here. I begin unwinding the towel wrapped around her elbow, releasing the pooling blood. It begins to seep through the bandaged towel.

“Come the fuck on, Rebecca,” I murmur. I jam my finger into her throat again, and she barely reacts. She’s going comatose. I wrap her right arm as best as I can, stopping the blood. I toss the bloody spare towels onto the floor. Then I grab her arm again, throwing it around my neck. Red and blue lights swirl through the kitchen and I hear wheels peeling their way into the driveway.

I lift her into the air, and her arms fall limp. Locking her arms into place isn’t working anymore. I’m running very low on time, but I don’t let it get to me. No distractions.

Across for emotion, up for effect, I think to myself again and again. This wasn’t an intentional suicide attempt. It was a self-harm attempt gone too far. I manage to get her to the door, where I’m stopped by a man in a black- and yellow-striped suit.

“Woah, woah,” he says, taking her from me with a practiced hand. “I got her, kid. Don’t worry.”

I grunt, helping him get her into the stretcher he’s set up on our front step. I see the clock on my way out the door, and it’s only been four minutes or so since I found her. She was still alive.

He and I wheel the stretcher down the driveway. He tries to wave me off, but I'm not letting it go so easily. “Twenty-eight to thirty T-3 pills,” I say. “Three deep cuts, two on the left and one on the right.”

“She’s right-handed?”

“Yeah.”

“Any prescription medication?”

“Seratonin and apo-Naproxen. Antidepressant and painkiller.”

“Got it,” he says. He lifts the stretcher through the level and moves her into the back of the ambulance. “I’ll take her from here, kid. Don’t worry about her.”

“I love you, sis,” I murmur, watching him slam the doors, jog for the passenger door, and tear towards the hospital.

I sit down on the steps. I know the drill from here. I’ve served my purpose. My mother, sister, and brothers get into the car, but there’s not enough room for five. I’ll get there by bus soon. But I need time to recuperate my mind. Everything hits me at once, every emotion I have blocked for the last five minutes, and it breaks me: the anger, the sadness, the helplessness, the worry, and the fear. It eats away at me, and I feel like I’ve taken a load of bricks to the head. The wind is cold and I’m in a torn t-shirt soaked in the blood, vomit, and tears of my dying sister. I put my head in my hands. I wipe the blood from my own scratch off onto the gravel below my feet – I don't care.

Nobody saw the tears leaking down my face as they left. I had served my purpose. I had bought her time. She was still alive.

I wish I could have done more.


DANIEL HENDRIKX

Daniel Hendrikx is a Professional Writing student from Newcastle, Ontario. Daniel grew up working on farms, and writing his own fiction. He finds time to write between playing video games and his guitar. Daniel is aspiring to be a professional writer. One day Daniel hopes to write a memoir as he draws his best inspirations from his own life

What the Pelican Teaches

By Gavin Hart

"You gotta tie it over the handle," he said as he gently pulled the strap from my hand. "Like this."

I watched as he threaded a short length of paracord through the strap and around a handle on the side of our food pack. With a tug of the rope, the pack rose and disappeared into a canopy of autumn leaves, far enough from any wandering animals that might wish to steal from it. That was the first thing Eric taught me that week at summer camp. He was a quiet eight-year-old Inuit kid, the same age as me.

It wasn’t until the third day that I decided to approach him while he was eating lunch alone. I asked him several questions, to which he responded politely, but he didn’t make any attempt at eye contact until I asked him what his parents did for work.

"I don’t know. I’m adopted," he said, this time looking straight at me. "They’re somewhere in Nunavut. But I’ve never met them."

Little me wanted to console him, but all I could muster was a half-cocked "oh."

The next day Eric found me by the stables talking to the horses through the fence, which we were told explicitly not to do.

"Hey, want to play Frisbee?" 

"Me?" I asked through a curtain of disbelief.

"Yeah, let’s go out to the fields."

Third-grade me had never been asked to play. I was used to doing my own thing on the school yard, so it felt a bit unnatural to be throwing a Frisbee around and talking to a complete stranger, but that’s what we did all morning, pausing only for sliced apples and Kool-Aid.

Eric told me that he was adopted from Whale Cove, Nunavut, when he was two. His mother was unable to support him, and was happy to hand him over to his forever parents, Gale and Peter. Hearing such a complex life-story made me feel guilty for having such a standard upbringing.

"Yeah, I was born in Parry Sound, but we moved to Bracebridge and now my parents own a motel," I explained.

There were only a few more days of camp left, but Eric and I spent every remaining day together, playing and goofing off as children do. I remember the day we stole and ate an entire jar of cake icing from the kitchen. We both got incredibly sick and slept it off behind an old outbuilding.

On the last day of camp, we said our goodbyes, hugged, and parted ways. I still remember Eric as the first friend I ever made. I never expected to see him again, let alone live with him.

I imagine our lives became very similar at some point in the eight years that we were apart. I imagine that Eric also had difficulty making friends, paying attention in class, and feeling happy like kids should. He probably grew into his depression like a pair of hand-me-down pants, just as I did. It’s not hard to imagine him smoking joints and stealing his dad’s beer by age 13. My point is, Eric and I were failing some very basic requirements for having a successful youth.

From the stories he told me later, I gather that Eric started out with alcohol, but later graduated to opiates when he stole a bottle of his grandfather’s hydrocodone. This began a fast track to heroin, homelessness, and a broken family.

One morning, Eric’s father found him unconscious on the front doorstep. Eric had evidently tried coming home one night after being missing for over a week, but in his delirious state couldn’t figure out how to use the door. He gave up and fell asleep on the porch. He was rushed to the hospital where they pumped his stomach, and concluded that alcohol poisoning and heroin had almost killed him. For Gale and Peter, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and placed Eric on the road to recovery.

In a separate corner of the province, I was in a similar rut. At 16, I had moved out of my parent’s house and was becoming heavily involved in an ever-expanding drug culture. I wasn’t speaking to my family, and I was failing my studies. I suffered a drug-induced breakdown one night in March of 2013 and called my father for the first time in months.

"I’ll go. Please come pick me up and I’ll go," I told him.

That night, I found myself in room number eight of my parent’s motel because I wasn’t trusted inside the house. I stayed up all night, afraid of what I had gotten myself into. At six in the morning, I got in the truck with my parents and was driven to the middle of nowhere. I was ushered into a cube van and driven to what can loosely be called a wilderness detox program.

The program was structured in two sections: eight weeks of rough camping in the backwoods of Sunridge, Ontario gave your body time to sweat out the drugs, and then you were transported to a school-like facility where you went through the rest of your treatment. Unknown to me was that Eric had started the program ten weeks before I had, so he had already done his time and had been transported to the school.

The weeks I spent in the woods program were the hardest of my life. The withdrawals, the isolation, and the homesickness breaks you down after a while. Once my eight weeks were up, I was transported in the same old cube van to the school.

I didn’t recognize Eric at first, but I remember seeing him in the dining hall and noticing that he stood out. The boys were split up into two teams. I was on team one and Eric was on team two, so I wasn’t formally introduced until about a month later when we had “community day.” This was a day held once a month when the two boys’ teams were allowed to mix together to play sports, and the like. We were picking teams when one of the captains yelled out his name.

"… and I’ll take… Eric Aylik."

The memories of my first friend came flooding back to me. I approached him halfway through our game.

"Hey, did you ever go to ***** for summer camp?"

"Yeah, I did."

"Do you remember me?"

There was a pause, and then a smile of recognition followed by a hug.

"No way! That’s crazy," he exclaimed as people began to gather around us.

"We used to go to summer camp together!" I said.

"No way! You guys know each other?" One guy asked.

"That’s crazy!" Another exclaimed, and it really was. Our program accepted children and adults from all over the world, and it was rather expensive to be admitted and looked after. The fact that both Eric and I had been sent to the same treatment program in the same window of time was remarkable.

From that day on, we were firm friends. We gave each other nicknames; he called me Doc and I called him the Pelican, because man, did he ever have a beak on him. The quiet kid I knew was no more.

We were on opposite teams, but we still saw each other every day in the dormitory. We enjoyed our evening chats for about 13 months, until July of 2014 when Eric was finally done treatment and ready to graduate. He was moving to Ottawa to pursue a career in bio-technology, and I was beyond happy for him. I watched him grow up a considerable amount that year, and I was sad to see him go. I remember hugging him and hearing him say "you’re gonna do great, Doc."

Fast forward about three months, and it was finally my turn to leave. Packing up all of my things and saying my goodbyes felt strange. That was the most bitter-sweet day of my life thus far. I was excited for the future for the first time in my life. I was moving to Ottawa for college and I couldn’t be more excited, but most of all I was excited to see my pal, Eric again.

School and work ate up most of my time at first. I didn’t have much time to socialize, but that was part of the aftercare system, after all. They made sure that when you left treatment, you would be keeping busy so as not to fall into old habits. We chatted online or texted each other sometimes, always making plans, but never seeing them through due to our conflicting schedules.

I had made plans to go have a couple of drinks at my classmate’s residence. I was sitting on the bus, listening to music with a general feeling of excitement. This would be my first night of drinking in almost two years, and you better believe I was excited. I was almost on campus when my phone buzzed. It was Jenna, a friend from treatment.

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"Hi, Gavin. I’m not sure if anybody has told you yet, but Eric passed away this morning. He died in his sleep."

What a way to find out. It felt like a shotgun shell to the chest. I felt like panicking, screaming, or hitting something, but I didn’t. I went to my friend’s residence, drank beer and pretended everything was fine.

I later found out that Eric died of a sudden heart arrhythmia that was likely caused by alcohol, but given Eric’s history, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were drugs involved and it was kept a secret by the family.

Three months later, I was having serious doubts about my humanity. One of my best friends had just died and I still hadn’t cried. Not while I was alone, not at the funeral, nothing. The strange thing was that I felt completely fine. I had a new girlfriend, my studies were going okay, I had gotten back into martial arts, and while I was definitely feeling a great amount of sadness and stress, I hadn’t cried once, and I’m generally an emotional guy.

A few weeks had passed and it was a Saturday night with my always-drunk girlfriend, so naturally we were at the dive bar down the block from her apartment. I was starting to feel quite drunk when a lump in my throat formed.

"Let’s go home. I’m drunk," I slurred.

On the way back to her apartment, I noticed something wasn’t right. I’ve never had a heart attack, but after having this experience, I knew what having one would feel like. We burst through the door and I collapsed on her bed, where I proceeded to sob like an idiot. Eric was dead and here I was getting loaded and wasting my life with a girl I didn’t care for. I fell asleep.

In the morning, I finally had time to think. I came to the conclusion that I was back on the wrong track. I was wasting time and I knew that if I had died in my sleep that evening, the same way Eric had, it would have been with a mountain of regret. Something needed to change.

We had moved to the same city, but we had never gotten together. That will bother me for the rest of my life. However, I remain optimistic, because a friend once told me that I will do great. Though he’s gone, the pelican still teaches me, and I can’t wait for my next lesson


GAVIN HART

Gavin is an amateur mixed martial artist from Muskoka, Ontario. He enjoys the outdoors, dirt biking, playing the drums and long walks on the beach.

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Four Harper's Lane

By David Haddad

At number four Harper's Lane sat a large, blue house, just before a rusty chain-link fence that marked the end of the narrow street. The paint had chipped away over time, exposing large patches of grey that gave the house the appearance of a cloudy sky. The enclosed porch, full of empty beer cans and torn garbage bags, had several busted out windows, and the few windows that remained intact had serious cracks, threatening to give even from a playful tap. Honestly, to any passersby making their way to the nearby grocery store, the place must have looked like a crack den, but to my friends and me... well, it was definitely garbage; but it was our garbage.

The first few times I went to Harper's Lane, I never ventured inside. Mack lived there with his dad and we would hang out on the porch, smoking weed, writing songs, and laughing at weirdos as they walked by. I rarely saw his dad, but I wasn't in a rush to officially meet him. Most of what I'd heard about him was centred on his crooked business tactics, his affiliation with the local biker gang, and his myriad of “recreational” habits. Picture your standard bald, tattooed, stereotypical biker-type, and you've got it spot on.

Mack and I hadn't known each other long, but we bonded quickly over music, movies, and pot. He was one of the most interesting people I'd met at that time, and he was certainly the only person I'd ever known who lived in their car. During his final year of high school his father told him they were moving, and when Mack asked where, he was told, “well, there aren't really enough rooms for you....” But, he barely seemed fazed by the rejection. Growing up with his unpredictable family and lifestyle, he knew how to roll with the punches and adapt when he needed to.

Eventually, the punches rolled him back to his dad's, who was moving across town. Rather than figure out how to get out of his lease, he decided it would be less of a hassle to pass the house to his son and a few of his idiot friends. The landlord wouldn't be thrilled with this idea of course, but luckily a plan was developed in which Mack and the aforementioned idiots would give the rent to his dad every month, who would then pass it on to the landlord. This way, he would have no idea that he was renting his house out to a group of 18- and 19-year-olds.

Any rational individual with even the slightest amount of foresight would have seen this was a bad idea. To a group of young adults, having recently escaped the school system and reached legal drinking age, it was trumpets and choirs. A two-storey house at the dead end of a street in the heart of downtown; it was not a tough sell..

On December 1st, Mack, his best friend Dev, and my cousin Jordan moved into the house. I helped with the move, asserting myself as an unofficial member and calling infinite dibs on the couch. It wasn't long before we started exercising our freedom by hosting games of S.K.A.T.E in the kitchen, setting up targets for indoor knife-throwing competitions, and finding sticks and empties to play “Bottle Baseball” with in the backyard. Everyone did what they needed to make themselves at home. Jordan set up his room with posters and coloured lights. He also created a lounge area. Dev haphazardly plastered his wall with ads from skateboard magazines, and drew a series of crude and violent cartoons alongside them; and Mack, claiming the role “Master of the House,” took the largest room, as well as a small storage room across the hall where he put a desk, bookshelf, and typewriter, calling it his “study.”

The parties the first week were pretty tame. They were mostly just gatherings of 10 or so people, getting drunk and listening to music. Eventually, we adopted an “open-door” policy that quickly took off. The first of the big parties had easily 50+ people, a quarter of whom we knew. There were a lot of “friends of friends,” but that didn't bother anyone. There was nothing a stranger could do to disrespect the house that one of its members hadn't done already. Jordan had taken to insisting people ash their cigarettes freely; Dev had punched several holes in his bedroom wall for fun; and Mack, while reserved at first, had not only begun letting people drink in his study, but even allowed a 45-minute, drunken face-slap competition to take place in it.

In less than a month, we reached what could only be described as "Animal House" status. Parties were happening multiple nights a week, and they nearly always consisted of bands playing in the basement, some form of destruction, and high-octane levels of inebriation. I remember one evening in particular when a fight broke out in the front yard. Mack's friend, a former high-school quarterback, ended up shirtless in the front yard against several known scrappers after one of them gave him attitude for being told to shut the door behind him. In an exhibit of spartan-like fury, he flung one after the other through the air, or onto the icy ground, taking fists to the face in stride. Naturally, the police showed up and Mack, as self-proclaimed “Master of the House,” was selected to go deal with them. To this day I have no idea what he said, but standing in the snow in Hawaiian boxer-shorts, aviators, a bright orange hunting hat, a leather jacket with no shirt, and high on LSD, he managed to convince the police that everything was under control, and they left.

It was shortly after that night that I woke up one morning to Mack sitting on the arm of the couch. After a brief exchange of “morning,” he cut right to the chase.

“Wanna move into the study?”

“Yup,” I answered with no hesitation.

I'd basically been living there since day one anyway, all the while waiting for that very offer. I realized that he was just looking for a way to cut down on his rent, but I didn't care. I also realized that, due to a reoccurring issue of doors being broken through or torn off their hinges, I would not have one of my own for my new bedroom. I was fine with this as well. I stapled a blanket to the frame, tossed a mattress in one corner, a record player in the other, and made myself at home. I officially moved in on New Year's Eve, coinciding with an appropriately monstrous party.

***

By mid-February, I felt as if I had fit half a year of living into the time I spent at Harper's. The parties had not died down, not that we made any efforts to calm them, and we were all feeling the effects of our lifestyle. It didn't help that we were in the midst of a bitter, Maritime winter. My alarm clock each morning was one part searing headache, one part frosty air, slapping me across the chest. I'd lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, trying to gather myself while piecing together fragmented scenes from the night before.

At this point, it didn't quite feel like a paradise, but it was still exactly what I wanted. I was 19-years-old, still fresh from a slightly extended high school run and had no interest in any secondary or formal education. I wanted to experience life in its rawest form possible. Some people join the army, some people backpack Europe; I lived at Harper's Lane.

In just over a month, I had done things I said I would never do, and experienced things I didn't think I would experience. I had been smoking pot since I was 15, but had a very strict “no chemicals” rule. I stuck to this rule for a while, but one night I walked into Dev's bedroom and someone offered me a line of speed.

“Ah, no thanks man,” I said, uninterested but trying not to come off as judgmental.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. It's not really my style. And no offence, but I would just feel greasy doing it, I think.”

“Well, would you feel less greasy if you did it through this?” They reached into their pocket and pulled out a 100 dollar bill, quickly rolling it between two fingers and holding it out towards me.

“Well, what difference does the amount of the bill make?”

“It's classier,” they said, shrugging. I paused, considered this ridiculous logic, then thought, fuck it.

The thing about allowing your principles to diminish is that once one goes, the others aren't too far behind. It's difficult to pinpoint the chronological trajectory of what could be considered the “downward spiral months” of Harper's Lane, but if I was looking for raw, uninhibited living, that's exactly what I got. My bedroom wall was more holes than wall at this point, and the house itself was showing extreme physical wear. All bedroom doors were long gone, as well as the bathroom door that Jordan had thrown me through. Practically all the porch windows had been smashed out, and there were blood stains on the hallway and living-room walls from a particularly geyser-like wound Dev gained during a bottle-fight one night.

We were overdosing on freedom, too young and stupid to know how to live with even the slightest amount of restraint. I remember Dev looking at me one day and saying, “we can do whatever we want,” before throwing a foot-stool into the ceiling fan, laughing maniacally as it exploded into kindling. We loved the chaos, and we loved the ridiculousness; but eventually something's got to give.

One night, we came home to find several cop cars in front of the house with all our neighbours standing out on the lawn. Immediately recognizing this as our “chicken's coming home to roost” moment, we tried to turn the car around and exit the lane, but were cut off by another police car. It didn't take long for them to figure out who we were, and next thing we knew we were in the back of a cop car while a group of policemen entered the house with the permission of the landlord, who was now there and meeting us for the very first time.

When the officer returned to the car, he sat silent for a moment before saying to us, in a very thick French accent, “the things I saw in there... this place is a fucking disgrace.”

We were told we could be charged with mischief as well as breaking and entering, but instead a deal was struck where we were given a week to completely repair all the damages we had done to the house. We called in favours, and anyone who cherished our ridiculous haven for debauchery offered a hand in cleaning the mess they had so much fun contributing to.

We lived that house into the ground (literally; it was torn down two years later) and I came out with a set of crazy experiences I was able to sift through and gain perspective from. Despite some dark and disgraceful moments, Harper's Lane remains something of a legend in certain circles of friends, to the point of several people (who didn't even live there) getting roman-numeral four tattoos as tribute. I'd like to think I learned some valuable lessons from my time there about how and how not to live, but there's a part of me that looks back at all the mould, trash, and shattered doors with fondness; and another part of me that looks at the scars and cigarette burns I acquired during that time and thinks, we were complete idiots....


David Haddad

David Haddad is an aspiring writer and musician who has been playing in bands since the age of fifteen. As a second year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, David attempts to balance school while maintaining his band, The Human Comedy, in Moncton, NB.

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A Wired Disconnect

By Blair Scott

Does communication technology distort how we perceive each other? While reading a book called Your Brain on Nature (2012), I came across the statement that people who spend excessive time on the internet actually perceive the human face differently over time. The result is a dulling of sensations in “the real world,” and a disconnection from the emotional cues of others. Since the mass spread of iPhones - and society’s obvious dependence on the internet as a main source of information - I have been skeptical of the relationship between humans and these new forms of technology. Although the benefit of convenience is obvious, the mixed social consequences blur my optimism.

I have a friend who is doing her Master’s Degree on the effects of social media use on people’s mental landscapes. She is exploring how it affects our mental and social health, particularly. Some of the proven side-effects of heavy internet use include anxiety, restlessness, and an insatiable desire to always know more. Another side-effect appears to be social disconnection (which is paradoxical, seeing as these technologies are supposed to increase social connection). But maybe it would be more accurate to say that they have increased the convenience of social connection, as well as control over how people present themselves. 

As much as I agree that the internet is a highly valuable tool, I am ambivalent to fully embrace the infiltration of “smart devices” in our culture. They always seem to be there - lingering somewhere in the background. They tell you where to go…they tell you the definition of anything you need to know. Of course, these things are useful, but in practice, I’ve observed a fine line between “useful information” and “wasteful distraction.” Quality social time seems to be compromised, as a result of excessive cell-phone and internet consumption. The internet is also a tool for ego indulgence, if you consider the time people spend perfecting their profiles on Facebook, and perhaps, dating websites.

Yet, at the same time, it may be one of the most democratic marks of our culture. Even though the “free-for-all” of the internet gives way to a lot of scams and misinformation, it has given us the power to research information in a more efficient, user-friendly manner (the ease and handiness of Google’s infinite omniscience, for instance). Furthermore, it gives us the opportunity to easily market ourselves; the flexibility to work or study from home. The internet is also the pivotal force driving the “all-in-one device” movement - a revolutionary stepping stone for information access, and convenience.

Contrary to what some might argue, I don’t feel that all of these devices have made us authentically smarter, or better at communicating. A lot of my skepticism heightens, especially, when I see the younger generation walking around, like zombies, with their eyes glued to their devices. These kids have grown up with the idea that cell phones, and the internet, are essentials to life. They often seem socially disinterested and disconnected, lacking an energetic engagement with their true environment. However, the argument for usefulness, alone, is enough to silence any pessimism. The internet is the most revolutionary tool of our time. There is no going back.

So, I am torn between the vast wonders of this technology, and my uncertainty about the progressive costs of its filtering, and distancing, of raw human connection. How can we humans - or the world for that matter - compete with the instant gratification of the internet?  

 


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Blair Scott

Blair Scott is a Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, who loves writing poetry. In recent times, she has become interested in the analysis of various sources of health literature, and how consumers come to terms with this multitude of information. Blair currently works at a health food store, but aspires to become a freelance contract writer and editor. 

When You Give, Who Benefits?

By Monique Veselovsky

Over the past few decades, Canada has moved away from its label as the “welfare state.” The government has propelled us into a liberalist economy, which means opening markets and decreasing social spending. The focus is more on personal gain, what one can do for oneself, and not what one can do for a neighbour. Despite this, Canadians continue to be generous when the need arises. 

 We are now approaching the winter holiday season. As we get closer to family celebrations, our food donations are sure to increase. Many will likely consider a food-basket program, providing disadvantaged families with a Christmas meal. But what we are not likely to consider are the profits some companies have found to make from this generosity.  

How does this happen? How have corporations been able to find a way to benefit off charitable giving?

 It is only in the last few years that Sobeys has offered pre-packaged food donation bags. As a Sobeys cashier, my sister packed many of these bags. The store offered two options - one $10 bag and the other $15. She decided to do a little math one day on the products she was packing into these bags. Based on the sale price of the food items packed into the larger bag, most of every dollar you spent went towards food in the bag; however, with the smaller bag, the cost of food added up to about $1 less than what you were paying, leaving the grocery store with nearly a 10% profit on the sale (not including the regular profit made off the food items).

 This profit may not seem significant, but it adds up. And if the grocery store is seeking to benefit the community, why not offer the food at cost? Then consumers could offer more through these pre-packaged food bags than what they would be able to purchase themselves for the same amount of money - especially as these bags are donated on behalf of Sobeys, adding to their portfolio of corporate responsibility. In that case it would be easier to overlook the 10 cent to 1 dollar profit made off the sale of the bag. These bags are clever as they make you (the consumer) consider doing something you might not think of off-hand, leaving you feeling good as you make a donation almost as an afterthought. In the increasingly busy lives we lead, making goodwill and charitable giving convenient is becoming a commodity in business.

 Perhaps, as these food bags are an easy grab, they do encourage those to do something charitable who otherwise wouldn’t. In this case, they may do more good than harm. But this is not the first time a company has taken advantage of our goodwill, as well as our ignorance. Many stores, including grocery stores, offer at-the-cash donations for various charities and causes. This money is then put towards a cheque that the store is able to “donate” (on our behalf) to the charity. So, for example, the $2 you give at Walmart for the Children’s Wish Foundation, along with the five hundred thousand others who donated $2 in the same month, allow Walmart to write the Children’s Wish Foundation a $1 million cheque. And then Walmart can use that donation for tax benefits.

 It’s a very clever model. When a cashier asks if you’d be willing to give $1 to feed hungry kids, or help disadvantaged children learn how to read, it’s hard to say no. And besides, what’s a dollar to most of us? When you’re at Chapters buying a $25 book on the perfect feng-shui bedroom setup to promote creativity, health, and self-actualization, it’s almost embarrassing to deny little Jimmy a $1 juice box. And you’ve probably picked up enough pennies off the sidewalk over the course of your lifetime to account for that dollar anyway.

 We may not often think to donate a couple dollars, especially when we don’t know about many of these charities. But, if you do a little research, you can find an organization that works towards something you believe in. And then you can make your own small donation—often online—that you can then write off in your own taxes. You probably deserve that break more than Walmart.

 So this holiday season, as you open your wallets and your hearts, open your minds as well. Think about what you are doing, and how you’re doing it. And make sure that your goodwill is put towards those who are truly in need.


Monique Veselovsky

Monique Veselovsky has always loved the art of the story.  As an advocate for social justice, she understands the power of storytelling in overcoming difference.  Her greatest desire is to create dialogue and share knowledge, for there is no greater story than someone’s lived experience.  She hopes to tell her story here.  Join her on: Instagram or Twitter

Humanity Breathes its Last, All is Lost

By Matthew Versace

The United Nations shocked the world today with the announcement that everyone on the planet has died. The only survivors are the man that made this announcement, the person writing this article, and of course, you. The report turned heads (or at least would have had there been any heads to turn) but did not come as a complete shock, given the way international relations have soured, the climate has been irreparably damaged and the way diseases have gotten worse.

   Pictured: The Earth as of a few minutes ago

  Pictured: The Earth as of a few minutes ago

One can only theorize as to what caused the annihilation of our species. Were there any war experts left, they would likely blame the international super war, an event that occurred when all the wars around the world combined into one massive death battle. Given the amount of conflict the world over, it was only a matter of time before they started to overlap. The death toll of the super war is estimated to be in the tens of billions, which is especially horrific when one remembers that until today, there were only about seven billion people on Earth.

Another contributing factor would have to be the increasing number and severity of fatal illnesses. Days before the global genocide, wellness scientist Miles Cuzurnaldpump revealed the existence of a previously unknown illnesses with a higher fatality rate than the plague and as contagious as a common cold. He named it “Hysamalabaphonyities.” According to Cuzurnaldpump, it causes the infected to forget how to speak any language other than Russian and compels them to form massive conga lines and dance until they literally die of exhaustion. Naturally, there is no cure.

Compounding both issues was the weather. The world’s top climate-change experts – at least the ones not part of a conga-line-related death march – had some chilling news. Apparently, global warming had escalated to the point where almost every country on the planet was completely flooded - the lone exception being Canada, which will soon experience temperatures similar to those on the surface of the sun. This all happened after the massive hurricane that demolished the entire eastern coast of North and South America, and slightly before the massive fire tornado currently consuming the remains of Australia.

 Pictured: Death

Pictured: Death

After reading all this, I became suspicious. Surely there must have been something on this planet that was not killing the population. Prior to the big death event, I went to my doctor to ask him about nutrition, hoping that in this instance humans may have some modicum of control over their health. I was wrong. Apparently, nothing has been more deadly to humans than food. “Meat makes you overweight and leads to heart attacks, plus it gives you cancer,” said my doctor. “Vegetables are covered in carcinogenic pesticides. Salty and sugary foods give you diabetes and then eventually cancer. Same with fruit, grains, water. We think that gluten-free or vegan foods will save us. But studies are showing that these are just as bad. We literally cannot eat without risking cancer.”

And that is where we are. The entire population has expired. I did not even mention the deadly gases in the atmosphere, or the race of hybrid killer bears emerging in areas where polar and grizzly bears coexist. In retrospect, the world was doomed. Everything was unhealthy and the few who were not dying wanted to kill each other. The one remaining expert says the only course of action is to climb into a hole and assume the fetal position. Tomorrow I will print a story about a cat to get your mind off things.  


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MATTHEW VERSACE

Matthew is a mild-mannered, Ottawa-born male. As you may have guessed he spends a lot of time playing video games. When he is not doing that he likes to read and write. He is a full-time student in the Algonquin College Professional Writing program. 

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Retail Life Sentence

By Caitlin Graham

Today’s young adult population is comprised of broke students who can’t even afford peanut butter and infestations of over-privileged millennial parasites. We have a bunch of hangry twenty-somethings year-olds working their butts off while other similarly aged individuals get hammered and sext their exes. Obviously only a portion of these plebeians will understand hard work, though it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success – that’s typically reserved for mortals of the silver spoon.

A focus on those who do work will reveal that they also have a greater grasp of common decency. They are, however, an endangered species. Those who have nothing better to do with their time than complain about not having any, yet don’t feel it necessary to seek employment, are taking over the planet. This can be seen when a person like myself is forced to work over four part-time jobs at a single time while juggling full-time school work, while fellow students come complaining about being unable to manage a simple social calendar full of booze and sexcapades. And this happens on a daily basis.

These facts hopefully depict the prudent need for drastic societal shift in order to orchestrate a fully functional populace comprised of cordial human beings. The solution to this conundrum and our country’s desire for change is to make six months of retail work mandatory for every of-age citizen. This would result in the killing off of every person’s soul in the most appropriate portion in order to yield more humble, considerate anthropoids. The fact that my nights are filled with dreams of angry customers and the beeping of cash registers, yet I still find it impossible to pull myself out of bed, means that I have no desire to fight against the masses. If everyone was in the same boat then there would be no mass to fight against.

Once a person works retail, the polite spiel they are required to regurgitate upon meeting each new customer will become deeply ingrained. Doesn’t everyone appreciate being thanked for simply showing up, fielding inquiries about their well-being, and being asked if they are in need of any assistance? Wouldn’t it be nice if this were a more common and natural occurrence? It would also result in fewer exchanges fettered by hipster slang, or more accurately, non-ironic grammar discrepancies, and pardons for horrible French.

As a retail employee, you must treat customers with respect and do everything in your power to keep these patrons happy. In other words, workers are designed to suck consumers into a black hole that results in the spending of vast amounts of money on useless possessions of inaccurate monetary value. Repeating these behaviours time and time again turns compulsion into common practice. This will result in the same performances occurring beyond the walls of each job site, despite workers forgetting that the real world exists, as they have no time to see the light of day.

Not only will these niceties lead to more considerate attitudes, it will also lead to individuals becoming more habitually humble. If everyone has similar work experiences while growing up, people will finally be sympathetic when it comes to retail workers being forced to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. No longer will people come in exasperated over their hectic week and tell people who are working how grateful they are that it’s the weekend. They will start to understand that even though some people have two days off in a row, others don’t get time off no matter the day of the week.

It would also minimize the risk of retail anxiety experienced by shoppers, the symptoms of which are extreme anger towards employees, screaming about unfair prices and policies, and brash exits over lines that are too long. Remember, mental health is an important part to the overall survival of our species.  

Let us join together and support a retail life sentence as a way to put society back on track. Every person can be rehabilitated, so why not an entire society that has appeared to have lost its way on the road to retribution? Or something like that...


Caitlin Graham

Caitlin Graham prides herself on saying she graduated university without debt, after working up to six part-time jobs at a time. However, she can be classified as a glass-half-empty person with a tendency to be straightforward. She hopes to become a glass-refillable person after grasping a stable career.

Trudeau Says No to 24 Sussex Drive

By Daphne MacDonald

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refuses to move into 24 Sussex Drive until the damages caused by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper are repaired. “It looks like a frat house,” says Trudeau. “It’s disgusting. It reeks of booze and stale cigarettes. There are holes in the walls, beer damage to the hardwood, and spray-painted dicks everywhere.” Stephen Harper’s party- boy lifestyle was well hidden from the public eye. After he lost his title in the recent federal election, many of his former party guests took to social media to show how “cool” he actually was.

“Steve always had the best keggers. And his cover band was pretty decent,” says Jeremy King, a current University of Ottawa student. Harper would send out Facebook event invitations to anyone who liked his Facebook page. He only asked that his guests sign a disclosure agreement, so his reputation as a professional prime minister wouldn’t be tarnished. Aside from that, it was a free-for-all at his parties. He had an endless supply of beer and cigarettes, but no one was allowed to smoke marijuana in the house. “We hot-boxed the creepy bat shed in the backyard,” says King.

Harper had celebrity guests in attendance, including Justin Bieber and hip-hop artist Drake. He even hired local strippers for nude sushi buffets. Some of the leaked photos show him streaking around his property. Other photos show him posing nude on a polar-bear-skin rug with a goofy grin, and a tattoo on his lower back. The tattoo has his band’s name, Van Cats, and a doodle of a cat straddling a Volkswagen van. 

Although Harper has not been available for comment, his daughter Rachel, 16, has a lot to say about her dad’s rebellious behaviour. “It f*cking sucks! My friends would rather party with my dad, but he’s such a loser. He tries too hard.” Some of Rachel’s friends have selfies with a drunk Harper on their Instagram pages. His wife, Laureen, posted a Tweet saying: “My husband is still the boy I knew in college, and I love him for it. #eternalflame #YOLO.”

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But no matter how fun Harper appears to be, the damages to the official residence will cost Canada $10 million to repair. Harper might be able to raise some money to help with the costs when he goes on tour with his band next summer. In the meantime, Trudeau and his family will be living at Rideau Cottage on the grounds of the Governor General’s residence. “I’m okay with that for now,” says Trudeau. “I just hope Johnston doesn’t bother us too much.” Governor General David Johnston has been known to dress up as a clown and blow air horns in the windows of neighbouring homes. “Canada’s run by a bunch of quacks. That’s why we need to build a wall along the border,” says U.S. presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Hopefully, Trudeau can repair the damages done to our country’s reputation while he waits for his official home to be repaired. 


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DAPHNE MACDONALD

Daphne is an aspiring writer from Ottawa. After completing a B.A. in Psychology at Carleton University, she decided to pursue her life-long passion for writing with the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College.  Aside from reading, writing, and drinking beer, she also enjoys movies, cats, and wine. 

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An Open Letter to the Prime Minister About Open Letters

By Ben Filipkowski

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

As I write this, we are only two short days away from your inauguration. By now you’ve been congratulated by nearly everyone who voted for you, who, let’s be honest, is most of Canada. I’ll say it one more time – congratulations!

Pleasantries out of the way, I’d like to get right down to business, which is to say I’m going to talk about your business, or more importantly, what you should be doing.

You’ve been receiving many letters from Canadians. I know this because I’ve read half of them. As such, your first order of business needs to be telling Canada Post you’ve got a serious problem with all these open letters.

Beyond that, let me tell you that you shouldn’t worry too much about what everyone is telling you to do. Take it from me, don’t do that. They’re all breathing down your neck, and that’s not cool (but seriously, don’t screw this up, we’re all counting on you).

It must be extremely annoying to have all these back seat Prime Ministers trying to run the show. You’ve been a Member of Parliament since 2008, so I’m sure you’ve got a pretty good idea of how to do things, but just in case you don’t, let me run down this list for you. I just happen to have it sitting here, by sheer coincidence, and I’d love to share it with you:

  •  Don’t do what the last guy did
  •  Do the opposite of what the last guy did
  •  Stick by your promises
  •  Stop reading open letters (after you read this one)
  •  Really don’t do what the last guy did
  • See above

As you can see, it’s fairly comprehensive, and I think this should be the guiding principle you base your government on. I am, after all, an expert, having voted in three federal elections. Granted, no one I have ever voted for has ever won, but that just speaks to the problems inherent in the system (which I see you’re committed to addressing) and the inaccuracy of polling data (I don’t know what the polling data says, to be fair, but I hear it’s not the most accurate stuff, or something along those lines). However, I think if you generally stick to the idea that you shouldn’t do what got the last guy kicked out, you’ll probably be okay.

And really, just stop listening to the open letters (after you finish this one, of course – again, I am an expert), because when you think about it, an open letter is just a way of guilt-tripping or shaming someone into action. Talk about positivity! You’ve just won a majority government, ousting the Tories after nearly a decade, and then people start throwing these letters your way, trying to get you to act on their agenda – shame on them! That’s not cool at all.

Do your thing. Don’t listen to the people saying, “As a Canadian,” or, “As a constituent,” or, “As a plumber” – their experience with federal politics amounts to voting or not voting every few years. I call these people as-holes; I think the reasoning behind this is clear.

As an expert, though, I need to maintain my standards and provide for you the best advice. After all, we all know that my opinion is the one you’ve been waiting on.

In conclusion, Mr. Prime Minister, congratulations are in order, as you’re now the head honcho of our nation. Do us proud. And with my expert advice delivered, you may now go govern.

Sincerely,

Ben Filipkowski


BEN FILIPKOWSKI

Ben Filipkowski lives and breathes film, books, history, music, and TV, so it makes sense that he's an aspiring novelist. When he's not watching Seven Samurai for the seventeenth time (with commentary), he can be found rewriting the latest draft of his novel, or out exploring another side of Ottawa. 

The Elephant in the Room and the Party

By Bryan Mackay

 Disunity in US politics.

Disunity in US politics.

American politics have become quite a spectacle for the global audience. From Black Lives Matter interrupting a Bernie Sanders rally to Hillary Clinton facing a committee, something vaguely entertaining seems to be happening everywhere. Of course, the biggest name thus far is Donald Trump. A businessman-turned-television-icon known best for his catchphrase “You're Fired,” he has gone on to fulfill his life-long dream of angering absolutely everyone possible - and running for president, I guess. His infamy has reached the point that it has made Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, major figures in the Conservative Right, call him out.

With Trump as the star of the show, the Republican Party finds itself at a strange impasse. Their most popular candidate is essentially a jester in the eyes of many, and he's managing to overshadow all other candidates. In contrast, the Democratic Party has two major names at the forefront of its race: Hillary Clinton, who has built up her pedigree for decades, and Bernie Sanders, a smaller name who has built up a surprisingly large following. Eight years after America's Conservative Right found its candidates overshadowed by the rising star, Barack Obama, it finds itself in the same situation.

The Republican Party, as it is now, is in a rut. After years of political dominance, they find themselves unable to get a solid footing in the presidential seat. Any goodwill is lost by the increasing radicalization of their members. Now what? Will they spend the next few years decrying a liberal government and radicalizing further?

Between this and Justin Trudeau’s recent successful campaign in Canada, it seems like conservatism is in decline in North America. In an age of social media, the right has been unable to impress youth. Programs like The Daily Show push them even more towards the left, as they begin to see the right as somewhat insane.

This all isn't a good thing for the American left either. Unlike in Canada, the Senate in the US is separate from the Cabinet of the Presidency, and is elected separately. In the Obama years, despite a successful campaign, he found himself hamstrung by a Republican Senate that decried his rule in every shape, way, and form. While I do not blame every failing of the Obama administration (i.e. drones) on an unwilling Congress, it is undeniable that the mismatch hurt his rule, and by extension, the country.

Such a mismatch happens due to the separate voting system. Youth are simply less likely to vote in the seemingly unimportant votes for Congress. Seeing as that age group is what pushes the Democrats so far, this leads to Republican victories across the country. So, with barely any conservative presence beyond a TV personality disliked by his own party, what happens? Will we see another Democratic win, and then eight more years of a stubborn Republican Congress?

America's political climate is in trouble, to put it simply. Its current status will lead to no sort of unity, only disorganization. This will only serve to wound the country further, when it needs healing.


BRYAN MACKAY

Bryan Mackay is a recent graduate from Carleton University. At his time at university, he minored in Film and thus learned a lot about the film medium and industry. He started this blog in order to post his thoughts on films made before 1970 that caught his eye for thematic or stylistic reasons, hoping that others may be interested in his thoughts and opinions on several films. 

Tories Must Go Back to Basics

By Alec Greenfield

 A portrait of Edmund Burke.

A portrait of Edmund Burke.

The Blue Party just got ignominiously tossed out of government. For the federal Tories, it is time to rebuild and re-brand.

If I were giving advice to the party executive, the first thing I’d tell them is to go back to their Enlightenment roots…and move closer to the political centre.

In other words, the Tories need to channel their inner David Hume and Edmund Burke – and stay away from any ideas that are too radical.

Conservatism, properly understood, is an Enlightenment philosophy just like liberalism. Try to ignore the cascade of snickering from progressive voices, and please hear me out.

Let’s start with David Hume (1711-1776). Hume was the great Scottish empiricist - the man who wrote that rationalism was an illusion and that “Custom is the great guide in human life.” In his book An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), he wrote that “(Custom) is the principle which renders our experience useful to us, and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared in the past. Without the influence of custom, we should be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond what is immediately present to the memory and the senses. We should never know how to adjust means to ends, or to employ our natural powers in the production of any effect.”

True, Hume wasn’t specifically referring to politics in this passage – he was writing about epistemology (how human beings acquire knowledge). Nevertheless, he is a pivotal figure in the field of moral philosophy because he recommended philosophical modesty. Human beings are fallible, and there is a limit to what we can know. As such, he is a major intellectual influence on conservative thought.

In addition, Hume was a political moderate. In discussing the contest between Britain’s Tories and Whigs (we can equate them with Liberals), he wrote on their respective policies: “That both the schemes of practical consequences are prudent; though not in the extremes, to which each party, in opposition to the other, has commonly endeavoured to carry them.”

The other guy the Tories should keep in mind is Edmund Burke (1729-1797). A major Enlightenment figure, he would also be a moderate in today’s political climate.

Like Hume, Burke was an advocate of intellectual modesty and warned against being seduced by politicians who peddled “easy” solutions to complex problems (in Reflections on the Revolution in France): “Very plausible schemes, with very pleasing commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions…When I hear the simplicity of contrivance aimed at and boasted of in any new political constitutions, I am at no loss to decide that the artificers are grossly ignorant of their trade, or totally negligent of their duty.”

Burke’s call for “a politic caution, a guarded circumspection, a moral rather than a complexional timidity” is a warning against radicalism.

The problem with radical decisions is that they almost always get derailed by the law of unintended consequences. A federal long-gun registry? The final cost was one billion dollars. Cancel the long-form census? Good luck with planning the budget and delivering government services.

As far as the federal Tories are concerned, they need to brush up on their Enlightenment forerunners and absorb their lessons.

They should discard the radical ideas of libertarians like Ayn Rand – those notions have no practical use in the real world.

In other words, the Tories should leave their copies of Atlas Shrugged at home.


ALEC GREENFIELD

Alec Greenfield graduated from Carleton University with a degree in history. After that, he taught English in South Korea for 14 years. He is fascinated by writers who are daring or unique. Besides politics, his interests include movies, travel, spec-fic, karaoke, and Kierkegaard. He lives in Ottawa.

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A Review of Stephanie Wellman's It's All About Light

By Holly Drew 

 "Deep Blue" by Stephanie Wellman

"Deep Blue" by Stephanie Wellman

Tucked into a corner of the Centrepointe Theatre is the Atrium Gallery, filled with pockets of colour. The reds, yellows, and blues inspire passers-by to take a closer look inside. It is a small, humble space with a modern concept. I sit on the only bench in the room near the entrance, along a wall of windows, and look at the grey clouds outside. It is a dreary day, a stark contrast to the various images of colourful sunsets and sunrises that line the gallery walls. On display is a collection of pastel paintings by Stephanie Wellman (PAC, MPAC) of Russell, Ontario. The collection is called It’s All About the Light.

As Wellman puts it, “Light; physical and spiritual are the basis of my pastel paintings. The heavens offer a palette of many colours and shapes. The horizon presents itself with dark silhouettes of intense form. The discovery of such subject-matter has played an important part in developing my career as an artist.”

The main element of each painting is colour. It is mostly with Wellman’s choice of colour and shading that the image is created. This technique clearly demonstrates how light affects the landscape. Pastels blend hues and shades, paramount to recreating the fleeting texture and vibrancy of nature.

As I walk past the gallery from a distance, I assume they are photographs. Wellman uses the same composition techniques used in photography: lighting, shading and colour. This has given her images a photographic quality.

The piece that draws my attention the most is Deep Blue.  This 21’’ x 17’’ image can be broken into three parts. In the bottom third, we see horizontal rows of wheat that end at the horizon line of orange and red bushes. The viewpoint portrays the observer as standing in the field looking ahead as the tops of the wheat can be seen in the bottom of the canvas.

Everything about the colour gives a sense of the depth of field in the image. The dark strokes of brown at the base of the wheat give detail. The wheat is tall and mature and can produce shade, as the colour fades up to a honey orange and golden blonde. This also aids the pastel stroke lines to show movement, as if gusts of wind are rolling through the field.

Above the horizon line, the other two thirds of the image are taken up by the sky. In complementary contrast, the sky begins as a deep royal blue, then fades to a lighter shade near the top. Just above the horizon line, four white birds at various heights and  sizes, yet relatively small, fly above the horizon line to the left of the centre. The birds pull the viewer’s attention up into the sky.

Two images in the collection seem misplaced to me. Pink Lining is honest - there is pink lining to the clouds. Yet the depth and texture of the clouds are not so clearly seen, as it is in Everywhere - which is purely about the depth and texture of clouds created with various tones and shades of white, grey, yellow, and blue. Both images have small colour palettes, but Pink Lining doesn’t seem to capture the details as well as other images in the collection.

In Light Line the colours used are even more conflicting with the rest of the collection. The image has a clear black mountain range in the very bottom of the image, only a centimetre high, however the rest of the image seems flat as the muted colours of white, rusty orange, and brown do not provide much detail in the cloud formation. 

Although the imagery does keep to the theme of light, the use of colour does not follow suit with the others. The colours appear more muted and come from dull grey and copper palettes. I suppose Wellman was simply trying to stay authentic to what she had seen in the sky but I believe these two do not belong in the collection.

Before I leave the gallery, I examine how the pastel paintings are displayed. Each painting has its own spotlight focused on the canvas. After spending time looking at the images, I muse that with the amount of technique applied, if I was to turn off all of the lights, each one would begin to illuminate the room like sunlight streaming through open windows.


HOLLY DREW

Holly Drew is a Professional Writing student at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Holly is originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where she spent a lot of time hiking in the beautiful Algoma District and Upper U.P., Michigan. Holly’s other home is in Lima, Peru, where she lived for one year as a Rotary International Exchange Student. Holly enjoys adventure, photography, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and writing.

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Myth and Symbol

By Alec Greenfield

Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, The Buried Giant (Knopf, 345 pages), is an eccentric addition to the King Arthur corpus. Those who have certain expectations regarding the fantasy genre should set those expectations aside when they sit down to read it. This novel, Ishiguro’s first in a decade, reinvents the most English of folk legends and turns it into a very personal vision; the book will no doubt appal Arthurian scholars. As for casual fans - if you are expecting a semi-sequel to T.H. White’s lively The Once and Future King, then you will be disappointed.

 Ishiguro's  The Buried Giant  is a compelling take on Arthurian legend, writes Alec Greenfield.

Ishiguro's The Buried Giant is a compelling take on Arthurian legend, writes Alec Greenfield.

The main characters in The Buried Giant are Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple living in England’s Dark Ages. They belong to a tribe of Britons. For those of you not up to speed on British history, the so-called Dark Ages refer to the time period (roughly 5th and 6th centuries C.E.) when the Roman Empire lost its hold on the island nation and Saxon tribes from northern Europe began invading and settling. The presence of these new Saxon tribes caused friction and outright conflict with the older Briton communities. The legend of King Arthur, who was a Briton, rose up during this era.

Axl is a former knight of the Round Table, but his mind, and that of Beatrice, is clouded. Near the end of his life, King Arthur asked his sorcerer, Merlin, to cast a spell of forgetfulness over all the tribes. After many years of wars, Arthur wanted to preserve peace in the kingdom after his death. Merlin used a dragon named Querig to achieve this result; so long as the dragon breathes out its mist, the people will forget their past hatred. But there’s more to it than that. Axl has a vague recollection of once being a knight, but he cannot remember for certain. Both Axl and Beatrice know they have an adult son, but cannot recall all the details. Where is he now?

It’s a shame that the philosopher George Santayana was born far too late. He would have advised Arthur, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Based on the descriptions in the novel, life on the island is not particularly peaceful or pleasant. Axl and Beatrice live in a cavernous establishment dug directly into a hill. Ishiguro describes it as a “warren” – a rambling series of corridors and chambers in which an entire community lives in squalor. Ishiguro conveys a memorable picture here of nature invading the bizarre architecture (writing about the couple’s chamber door): “…a large wooden frame criss-crossed with small branches, vines, and thistles which someone going in and out would each time have to lift to one side.” Furthermore, we see that people are just as suspicious and violent as they were during wartime. Outsiders are viewed as either possessed or dangerous, and every man is quick to draw a sword.

Axl and Beatrice decide to leave their depressing home life and find their half-forgotten son. They hope to move in with him. On their journey, they encounter several unique individuals: an orphaned Saxon boy named Edwin, a lone warrior named Wistan, and the aged knight Sir Gawain. Gawain’s mission is to find and slay the dragon Querig in order to lift the spell. During their long walk, they must be mindful of skulking ogres. Viewed in this light, The Buried Giant is a classic saga.

My first thought on finishing the book was that Ishiguro loves symbols. Let’s count a few. Everyone in the warren is an amnesiac, and Axl and Beatrice are denied even one candle to light their room – a life without “illumination.” Check out their names: Beatrice is a reference to the lead character in Dante’s Paradiso (a tip-off as to where the novel is headed), while Axl is the Scandinavian version of Absalom. If you remember your lessons from Sunday school, Absalom was the rebellious son of King David. So Axl has some personal history to hide. When we encounter the dragon near the end, it is not quite what we expect, its physical state a clear analogy to England at that time. The ferryman the couple meets has a parallel in Greek mythology. If you enjoy decoding symbols, then this is the novel for you.

My second thought is that The Buried Giant is an assured artistic statement. Ishiguro could have easily used the King Arthur legend to write an entertaining rendition along the lines of Stephen R. Lawhead’s The Pendragon Cycle. But Ishiguro has loftier ambitions. This novel is a meditation on the power of myth, memory, and the human need for loving relationships. He uses the famous legend as a platform for his exploration of these themes. In my view, it is speculative fiction of a high order: an Arthurian fantasy transformed into literary art.


ALEC GREENFIELD

Alec Greenfield graduated from Carleton University with a degree in history. After that, he taught English in South Korea for 14 years. He is fascinated by writers who are daring or unique. Besides spec-fic, his interests include movies, travel, politics, karaoke, and Kierkegaard. He lives in Ottawa.

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