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Monday, 6 November 2017

The 2nd Thirteen

Friday, January 1, 2000

WELL I SEE THE COMPUTERS DIDN’T DESTROY the world last night so life must go on, I guess. In celebration of this second chance graciously allowed us by our binary overlords I’ve decided I’m going to keep a journal. It’s not a diary, and it’s not “gay” like my stepdad says. Ray thinks anything that isn’t over-the-top macho is gay.  Mom sort of gets mad at him for that I think, but what could she do about it? My sister Amy tells him off though. She’s the only one in the family who isn’t mean to me. For a sister, Amy’s pretty fantastic.

So my English teacher Mr. Dinsmore says keeping a daily journal is an awesome thing to do. Says he’s kept one since he was a kid in the seventies or eighties and looking back on your thoughts when you’re old is really fun. And Mr. Dinsmore’s wife has the biggest boobs I’ve ever seen so he’s pretty cool and not gay at all. Whoever gets the hottest girl is obviously the coolest guy and if you want a good looking girl too then you damn well better pay attention to how the cool guys get them.
Anyway it’s the very first day of a new year and a new decade. People said it was a new century and millennium too but math says that’s not until next year and I trust math more than people. Still, I figured it was the perfect time to start my journal that I’ll be faithfully maintaining every single day until I grow up and get a sexy wife with big boobs like Mrs. Dinsmore.

Tuesday, September 6, 2000

I guess I’m a little behind on my entries.
I just started the eighth grade today and we all have to keep a journal for English class, even the boys, so I remembered I had this one that I had started before and figured I could use it. I don’t know what to write in the stupid thing. It’s hard to write stuff when you’re told you have to. My dog died so I guess I could write about that. She was thirteen, same as me, and I had her all my life. My sister Amy cried. So did I. Ray says we need a new dog right away but no dog could ever replace Daisy.
I have to write 150 words a day which sure seems like a lot when you have nothing to say but I guess I’m done for now. Wait, hang on... okay, now I am.

Wednesday, September 7, 2000

My mom and Ray were fighting last night about getting a new dog. My mom says no and Ray says yes, so we’re getting one. Mom’s mad and Ray’s all excited. I don’t know why. It’s not like he cared about Daisy and he won’t care about this one either.

What to write about? We’re going to be learning about Shakespeare in this class. I’m not looking forward to that. I hate the way they talk. It doesn’t even make sense. Why can’t we read books by people who didn’t die a million years ago? People who speak English properly. Like, it is English class! The book is a play and it’s called “As You Like It”. So far, guess what? I don’t like it! I like math way better. Everything has an answer there. None of this “interpreting” stuff. Who knows who’s right? English teachers just make shit up.

Monday, September 12, 2000

Well damn, I missed a few days. Mr. Jordan says as long as I have the right word count by the end of the week he won’t deduct marks, which is cool but I really don’t feel like writing that much.
Anyway, surprise surprise, we got a new dog on the weekend! She’s pretty awesome actually. She crapped on the dining room floor as soon as we brought her home but she hasn’t done it since. She learns really fast. I wanted to call her Scamper because she looks like a scamp and my mom liked that but Ray wanted to call her Blaze because he says “Blaze is a bad-ass name,” so it’s Blaze.

Mr. Jordan was going on about that Shakespeare book today and part of it sounded pretty neat. At least it got me thinking about math. He (Shakespeare) says in the book that Man has seven stages in life and he goes on to list them. I wrote them down, kind of, and it almost works that you can divide each stage into thirteen years: seven thirteen-year stages.

So I realized that since dogs live for about thirteen years (Daisy did anyway), a guy can have seven dogs in his life – one for each of the seven stages. Cool, huh? I had Daisy for my first thirteen years, when I was mewling and puking and all that and now I’ve got Blaze for the second thirteen. Unless she gets hits by a bus or something but we can’t consider all the variables like that. When Blaze dies of old age it’ll be 2013 and I’ll turn twenty-six that year. I’ll be finished my whining schoolboy phase and be checking out my mistress’s eyebrow, whatever the hell that’s all about.
Whoa, that was like two full journal entries! I’ll be caught up in no time.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

And that was the final entry.

I couldn’t remember anything I’d said when I was a kid and started writing this journal except that you get a dog for each phase of your life. For some reason, that always stuck in the back of my mind and when a few weeks ago Blaze died, right on schedule at age thirteen, it brought it all back and compelled me to search for this old book, which I finally found in a musty suitcase in my mother’s attic.

I was hoping I’d written something more profound -- some prescient gems about what awaited me down the road during “the second thirteen”, but whatever. At least good ol’ Blaze featured prominently as she was there with me throughout the second phase. Well, the bulk of it anyway. The “ignorance is bliss” years I guess.

I’m sure the remaining stages, however many I’m fortunate enough to enjoy or unfortunate enough to endure, will each have their own summits and valleys, bright avenues and dark alleys but this second stage is unique in that it’s the only one in which your age doubles from the start to the end: I’m now thirteen plus thirteen. I am two dogs old.

If it wasn’t apparent by the sudden mysterious demise of the journal entries, I didn’t really excel in school. I didn’t have the discipline and anyone who attempted to supply me with some was met with furious resistance. Guys in my family had never gone to school much and I wasn’t about to be the first and get razzed about it by my stepdad and his asshole brothers and all them. Beer and weed and girls, in any order, were far more alluring, easier to obtain, and a much less conspicuous path for me to take.

Despite having turned my back on most conventions by the age of sixteen, Blaze, who was an energetic and playful three year old by then, had really become my buddy. She always wanted to go everywhere with me but back then I rarely let her. That is, until I learned her value as a “chick magnet”. That’s the term Brian used. He was Amy’s boyfriend and considered a real catch by all her girlfriends, but they also said he should have been unhooked and thrown back after he stopped struggling.

Amy was twenty-one then and didn’t appreciate anyone’s advice about what she should do or who she should do it with. She got stuck on Brian, which was awesome for me since his network of cool now encompassed me, however peripherally at first.

Brian told me a lot about dogs and I listened eagerly. I was finally getting an education worth receiving. He explained how it was all in the tone of voice and in the eyes. He showed me how to get Blaze to do all sorts of wicked tricks, to do whatever I said without ever having to raise my voice. Without ever making verbal threats. With just the tone of voice, and with the eyes, total control could be obtained. He told me how even though they appear to want independence, to run free, unencumbered by rules or restraints of any kind, they really yearn to be controlled. Deep down, they beg to be told where their boundaries are and there’s nothing that makes them happier than when they find them and when they’ve managed to please their master. That’s when you throw them a bone, Brian explained, but not every time or they’ll come to expect it. It’s important they never know if their good behaviour will result in a treat or not. You got to keep them in suspense. They just need to know one will be coming eventually as long as they remain obedient and never stray.

Confidence leads to better technique, Brian assured me, and better technique leads to greater confidence. There were definitely many false starts but I gradually began to see results with Blaze. Brian seemed to have been right about so many things. I urged him to become a professional dog trainer but he scoffed at the idea. He said it really had nothing to do with dogs. I puzzled over that for a short while but let it go as Blaze returned with a Frisbee and set it at my feet. I praised her for it, but not overly.

It might’ve been a year later when I was considered a bit of a miracle worker with dogs myself. I’d been careful to follow Brian’s advice every step of the way and the effort paid off. Brian had told me that once I became that good and I could take Blaze everywhere with me, the chicks would start crawling all over me, as he put it. He said girls just love guys with dogs because it says that they’re nurturing, responsible, and family-oriented. Even if the chicks don’t know they want those things, their hormones know it. I told him I’m not any of those things but he assured me it didn’t matter. The appearance was all that counted. Image is everything, he said.

He seemed right, of course, as he usually did. With Blaze along, I had no problem attracting the girls. Girls I’d never met and would’ve considered out of my league would come up to me smiling, pet Blaze, and start asking me questions about her, and then about me. The problem was I had no idea how to respond. I’d stutter and say something stupid then ramble on trying to explain myself until I’d finally manage to chase them away.

I figured since Brian was so great at teaching me how to train Blaze then maybe he could start giving me some lessons on how to not scare girls away. He laughed and told me I didn’t need any lessons -- that I already knew everything I needed to know. I told him I definitely did not know because I was terrible at talking to girls.

Don’t you get it, man? Brian smiled. Bitches are all the same.          
Listen, I readily admit I’m not proud of how I acted for the next few years, but I did get laid a lot. It was in the confidence and the technique. It was in the tone of voice and the eyes. It was making them eager to please. It was throwing them the odd bone.

It was control.


I was twenty when I met Sheila at a party. Wasted as we both were, we managed the mating dance admirably. Smoothly swaying to the music we were producing on the fly, we allowed our melody to write itself. And when it came to the chorus neither of us missed a beat despite the hidden skips of our own hearts. Sue me for being sappy but that’s how it was.

But it wasn’t the usual. I suspected immediately there was something I wanted from Sheila, more than the typical conquest and abrupt parting. My suspicions played out and I soon found myself recklessly in love with her. She admitted feeling the same for me but that wasn’t strange at all. There was nothing odd about her behaviour toward me, as girls often adorned me with their undying love; only my own behaviour was out of character. And despite my feelings, or perhaps because of them, I sought mental superiority hard and fast. It was all I knew and the girl never had a chance.

I would like to throw a curve in here – to relate how Sheila was immune to my well-practiced techniques, impervious to my gaze and voice, but if anything she was easier to ensnare than many of them had been. She was very eager to be mastered. The only difference between her and the rest, besides the fact she was the first girl I ever truly loved, was that Blaze, curiously, had no time for her. Only after I would command her to allow Sheila to pet her, would she oblige, and only then, grudgingly. I knew this hurt Sheila’s feelings and I worked with Blaze to help her overcome whatever her problem might be. I suspect the major bone of contention was Sheila taking a permanent place in my bed when she moved in with me – the spot that had always belonged to Blaze.

Sometimes I would’ve actually enjoyed having Sheila come out and party with me on weekends, especially after she moved in with me. But if Brian and my family had taught me anything it was that a woman needs to stay at home and avoid risking any unrespectable behaviour, and to be there waiting to get me safely to bed when I eventually wander in drunk. And she was. Always. I loved her deeply for that and she loved to be loved for it.

Brian married Amy in ’08 and Sheila and I took the leap the following year when I just turned twenty-two. She’d hinted that she always wanted a fairy tale wedding but that would’ve meant having to put up with her family and all that shit. I could see no reason to let my wedding be ruined by that bunch of weirdo feminists and pussies. I was so grateful Sheila had rebelled against her upbringing. We ended up going to a Justice of the Peace at City Hall and just getting it over with. No hassle, no family, no charade. True love isn’t proved by pomp and ceremony; the proof is in actions.

We moved a few towns away in order to dissuade her parents from visiting so often and that worked pretty well. Once or twice a month we’d go to Brian and Amy’s for drinks and a barbecue or they’d come to our place, but the visits became more infrequent over time and the bonds began to fade. Christmas visits remained a must though, and a blast was usually had but I’d started feeling a little uneasy about some things. I wasn’t really sure what at the time.

It bothered me, for one thing, when Amy and Sheila would joke about how they knew Brian and I loved them by how strict we were - how they’d know we didn’t care about them any longer if we stopped keeping them on a short leash. The three of them would laugh about that and I guess I would too but it didn’t feel quite right, not after a while.

I started to feel like the whole short leash scenario... I don’t know, maybe it’s cute imagery for some couples but it felt wrong somehow – although not wrong enough to make me change my ways. How would I, even if I wanted to? These were the only ways I knew. I loved Sheila to death. Surely that commitment made up for any old fashioned tendencies – especially if she liked me being that way.

On the bright side, Blaze was finally starting to warm up to Sheila. The first time Blaze had lain at her feet Sheila was nearly in tears. That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I was happy for her too.

Sheila asked me one time why I was opting to visit Amy and Brian less frequently. She wondered if I was becoming disillusioned with my favourite big sister, but that wasn’t it. I realized then that I was becoming disillusioned with Brian. He was no longer the cool older guy that I’d once idolized. He was still the same as always but it seemed like I eased past him at some indiscernible point in some intangible way and now he was trying too hard to impress me, to regain what I think he too felt was slipping, and he mostly just came across as lame.

Amy had invited us over for a barbecue two summers ago and, since we hadn’t been there since the winter, I decided what the hell. I called to confirm and Amy answered the phone. Her voice was a little muffled and she sounded shaky. I told her we’d be there for the afternoon and started into the obligatory small talk when I thought I heard her starting to sob a little. I asked what was wrong. She was reluctant at first but with a little pressing she was soon gushing out the whole incident from the night before.

Brian had come home drunk after last call expecting his dinner. When there was none to be found he woke Amy up and asked her why she hadn’t made any. She was groggy and told him she thought he’d be too tired to eat so she didn’t want to waste food. He called her a few derogatory names and ordered her to get up and cook some supper.

She thinks she may have expressed annoyance, possibly rolled her eyes or something, and Brian had become infuriated beyond all reason. Amy said you could tell his pride had been hurt at the bar because he always picked a fight with her when he got home after being outwitted or outboxed by a drunken acquaintance. She knew that was the worst time to give him a reason to get upset but she’d been too tired to be cautious. He’d grabbed her by the hair and yanked her out of the bed and onto the floor.

Amy surprised herself then, she said, in that the worse he got -- the more he abused her, verbally and physically -- the more angry and stubborn she herself became and steadfastly refused to comply with his orders. Brian had been incredulous at the lack of respect and got on top of her and started choking her. She’d tried to fight him off but his rage was far greater than her ability to defend herself. His grip had tightened as his eyes bulged and his face turned purple and contorted. She had been sure she was going to die, she said.

As I pictured him with his hands around my sister’s throat I clenched the phone so hard it left deep impressions in my skin. As calmly as I could manage, I asked Amy how she’d gotten out of it. She didn’t know but she suspected the moment she felt she was dying he felt it too and that scared him and sobered him a little. Just enough. He released her, called her a lazy cunt and went to make himself something to eat. She’d lain there trembling for a good while, she said, before quietly getting herself back in to bed, feigning sleep when he crawled in beside her some time later.

Sheila knew something was very wrong by the way I was speaking with Amy. She began to massage my tightening shoulders. Blaze manoeuvred her muzzle into my free hand, for my benefit, not her own, until I relented and began stroking her.

At first all I could think of doing was rushing down to Brian’s work and smashing his face in, in front of his co-workers and continuing to do so until he was nothing but an unrecognizable mess. I soon realized that wouldn’t be the wisest course of action, even if I could be sure I wouldn’t come out of the tussle second best.

I told Amy she needed to leave him. She said she couldn’t. I was expecting that response but it still hit me hard to hear the words. I told her it would happen again - that she knew it would - and the next time she might not live through it. She said she understood but she couldn’t leave him. She didn’t know how.

I’d pleaded with her that day, to no avail. I became distraught and didn’t know what to do. I felt completely helpless to save my sister’s life. I called an abused women’s hotline and I was crying when I tried to explain the situation to the lady who answered. I don’t know how often men call those lines but she didn’t seem too surprised so I took that as a good sign.

It didn’t take long before I was disappointed though. There was nothing she could do for me. I don’t even know what I had been hoping for when I called. It was just desperation, grasping at straws. The lady told me as sympathetically as she could that unless my sister decided to leave on her own, then there was nothing they could do to help her.

Exasperated, I asked how could someone ever leave their controlling abuser without the abuser’s permission?

Yeah, that’s the thing, she said.

That’s the thing.

I was still shaking when I hung up the phone, so enraged, feeling so god damned useless. It then struck me that there was something I could do, if not for Amy, at least in honour of her, and for Sheila. I resolved at that moment that I would never again lord over the woman I loved. It would be a whole new game; I would do everything in my power to make sure my wife had the strength of mind to leave me if she ever felt she wanted to. If you love something set it free and all that, right? An entire dismantling of the relationship’s structure would have to be undertaken and rebuilt on equal footing from the ground up. It was daunting but I was determined, and I never wavered.

I wasn’t great at keeping up with half the housework but I tried. I was better at sharing decisions than I realized I could be though. I began including her, asking her opinion on all matters that concerned us both rather than just taking charge and doing what I thought was best. I started complimenting her on her choices, her views, her taste, and her accomplishments - everything from which mutual funds to invest in, to which television show to watch.

I realized her lack of confidence was something I had preyed on -- a weakness I had exploited and used for my own selfish purposes – to feel superior. To be superior. In control. Brian, the ultimate cool guy who I modeled myself after, now appeared for what he really was: a tiny little insecure man who needed to manipulate women to feel better about himself. And me: I had been his pathetic little mirror image.

My plan worked. Sheila’s confidence grew by the week it seemed. Her voice became stronger, she held her head higher, she advanced at work by leaps and bounds, going from a part-time cashier to a manager in under a year. It was a remarkable transformation to behold and she made me so proud to be her husband. And somehow Blaze became her best friend during that metamorphosis; I was becoming second choice for Blaze’s affections. I can’t say I wasn’t a little jealous but more than anything I found it a fascinating development.

In retrospect, I find ironic folly in my plan, in that I failed to inform Sheila of its implementation and objective. I don’t know, I guess I thought telling her would somehow undermine the effort. So as always, I had decided on my own what would be best for both of us. That oversight was possibly my biggest mistake.

She left me in the fall.

It was obvious that I didn’t love her any more, she said. Since I wouldn’t refuse to let her go out drinking with friends from work, that made it clear to her that I no longer cared about her. When I didn’t ask where she was, what she was doing until four in the morning, that was because I must have wanted her to find a boyfriend. So she found one. She found one who was jealous of me, her husband, and who wanted to know if and when she was intimate with me and ordered her to leave me. He treated her like a dog and she obeyed. She felt secure with him. He controlled her completely and she felt loved again.

I had come home from work to find her closet cleaned out of her essentials and favourites. Our dual bank account was cleaned out too. After all, her boyfriend was between positions at the moment and they were going to need any advantage they could get.

She took Blaze too and that was the final straw. I drove around to the shabby house where Sheila was holed up with her new master and demanded she give me back my dog. Through a ripped screen door she insisted she hadn’t taken Blaze; the dog had jumped in the car and wouldn’t get out. I called bullshit on that and she opened the door wide.

Call her, Sheila said. I did and Blaze came to stand by her side, just inside the threshold. Sheila held her hands in the air to prove she wasn’t holding the dog back. I whistled. Blaze cocked her head in that cute way she had but didn’t move. I called her, I patted my leg, I whistled again. I raised my shaky voice and she stood firm.

A voice from inside the house – a man’s voice, calm, confident, and in control, called her name and Blaze wagged her tail, turned, and disappeared down the hall and out of sight.

Sheila closed the door and followed.


She called me last Thursday to tell me Blaze had died. The vet had wanted to know her age and Sheila couldn’t remember. Thirteen, I told her, and that’s when that Shakespeare stuff came back to me and sent me searching for this old journal.

The Daisy stage had seemed so carefree in comparison. But as tumultuous as the Blaze years turned out to be, I wouldn’t give up the lessons learned for anything. I didn’t get a dog to replace Blaze when she and Sheila left me; it didn’t seem right then. But I’m twenty-six now and ready for phase three. At least I think I might be, but who knows what hurdles will spring up between now and when I’m thirty-nine?

I don’t know if I’ll find that bubble reputation that Shakespeare mentioned, but the dog pound is my first stop tomorrow and, together, me and my new pup will go looking for it.

Monday, 31 July 2017

The World Would Be So Much Better Without Their Kind

I told a guy I was sharing a smoke with that I turned fourteen yesterday and he said I should go home. I kinda chuckled a little but didn't say anything. I guess I could explain why I can't do that but really, what does it matter?

It’s November -- dusk. There’s a light drizzle falling. Temp is just a hair above freezing. I can tell by the darkening clouds that this is only the start. Again. My ripped sneakers are already soaked through due to the unavoidable puddles from the earlier storm. I can still feel some of my toes but not all.

The smallest ones are always the first to go.

I keep walking, because standing still isn’t an option. Yet I know there’s nowhere at all to go because the cops know all the dry and slightly warmer places that kids like me like to hang out at for a little relief from the elements, and so they ensure no congregating occurs there. They say these groups are not only an eyesore on the urban landscape that offend society, but they serve to foster mischief among miscreants and little deviants like me.

They’re probably right. They know I’m bad. Everybody knows I’m bad. They can’t all be wrong, I reason, so I’ve come to believe them.

And so I keep walking. Aimlessly. It’s dinnertime in Southern Ontario. I haven’t eaten since the day before yesterday so I try not to think of that. Sometimes I get lucky and get away with a Joe Louis or a pack of luncheon meat from Becker’s, but usually the only thing easy enough to steal is cigarettes from the handy counter displays. So I smoke. In a weird way, they’re my only comfort – all that I can rely on. They're pretty much my only true friend -- my only real family -- as they never desert me or push me away, and they’re a bit of an appetite suppressant, too. There’s nothing cigarettes can’t do.

They're something to hold on to.

I’m coming to depend on them a great deal, and nicotine is about the least of the reasons why. I’ve heard they can make you die sooner, like that’s supposed to be some sort of deterrent. And I like the smokescreen as a barrier so no one ever gets too close.

I walk on. This street has a lot of large trees. The branches are bare now but there's lots of them, and if they help get just five percent less rain on me then that’s something anyway. The windows in the houses -- many are lit up like movie screens to me as I pass them -- show moving pictures of happy families, warm and dry, laughing, sitting down for dinner, oblivious at this moment that people like me even exist.

I’m a ghost, or at least I might as well be.

I dare to stop in front of one them a few hours later when it’s full dark, and colder. As I'd figured, the cold rain is coming down harder now. My thin jacket, two months behind the season, is now soaked through. I know it’s dangerous to stop walking but my legs need a break and there’s nowhere dry to sit. So I stand and watch the movie for a little while.

There’s a house party going on. Everyone looks so happy; their animated hands and bodies express their obvious pleasure of just being with each other. Socializing, near the fireplace with drinks in hand and randomly grabbing whatever they are off the platters as they talk and flirt, and eating them practically without even realizing it. I can feel my legs start to stiffen too much, so I force them into moving again. On to the next movie and the next.

By the time I end up in a more commercial area, I don’t even know what kind of store it was or why I threw a rock through its window, but running away after the loud smash helped warm my toes up some.


And the decent upstanding citizens say:

Why do these pathetic, thieving lowlifes insist on inflicting vandalism and violence on decent society? It's absolutely senseless. What the hell is wrong with them? Why can’t they just act like normal kids? Why can’t they understand the simple rules of proper conduct? Why aren’t there more police patrols to ensure these vermin all get locked up and can’t bother good people anymore?

And if the kids grow up, they then say:

Why don’t they quit smoking? Why do they have to be such a blight on society instead of embracing it? Would that be so damn hard? I smoked for a while in university and I was able stop so there’s no reason why they can’t, too. They just don't care how despicable they are. God, the world would be so much better without their kind.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

A Fellow Human on Fellow Humans

The following is pretty much what I said in this federal survey on homelessness. Maybe take a few minutes and fill it out. 

It's beyond me that ensuring the least of us are adequately supported by our people and our governments is never a priority. Values are skewed. As long as the three people beside us think the disgrace is acceptable, then we do too. It’s the wrong attitude. Tackling hunger and homelessness is crucial for any society, and the federal government must immediately make it the priority that it truly should be.

Needed: Less red tape. Less servitude to the industrial charity complex. More direct action. Much more funding, but in the right places. A serious, on-going marketing campaign to help citizens understand that no one in our country should ever have to endure homelessness.

We're one of the most prosperous countries in the world. The current attention paid to this issue is an embarrassment. The government must step up - immediately. Not just federal: if you’re a people’s representative in Ottawa, or for your province or town, you have an obligation to take care of the most vulnerable citizens. Sleeping comfortably in your big house when you know others – equal to you – are shivering under bridges and wherever else they can find shelter from the elements is something I’ve never been able to understand. If you can do more – do it. When you’ve done all you can, then sleep comfortably.

I think a lot of people in my community care, and there seems to be a myriad of programs for the homeless, yet the situation never seems to improve - except for those paid to study the issue ad nauseam. That must stop. Government-funded backslapping needs to stop. Fancy banquets for community leaders to congratulation each other while they eat luxurious foods etc. at the public's expense is not right. Feed the hungry, not the well-paid and already well-fed.

Streamline services. Cut the charity industry jobs in half. Hire based on their understanding of how serious the issue is, and their ability and enthusiasm for solving it. There might even be enough federal money already being invested, but it's very poorly managed. If there was no industry at all and all that money went straight to the homeless - that would be more efficient than the current system.

Hire only those with absolute dedication to ensuring the travesty ends. One youth at a time. Then one adult. Keep at it until there are no more. By then, you'll need to start over, but the numbers will be fewer. Do it again and again and never lose site of the goal: end homelessness, not to feed the charity industry and be content that you've done your part because the funds were handed out. That's win-win for the government and industry, not so much for the homeless.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Cat

One night when Melody Bannock was five years old, she awakened from a deep sleep, cold, with a bitter post-winter chill creeping in through the broken bedroom window. Her big brother, Paul, had broken it while batting rocks outside with a slab of wood. That had been before Melody could even remember, but that was how the story went. Her daddy had said it had to stay that way but Melody heard someone say broken windows could be fixed. She didn’t see how; it sounded like magic to her and magic wasn’t real, and anyway, she believed what her daddy told her.

She couldn’t really remember the window, and her mommy said it made for nice sleeping in the summer when the breeze comes through the hole where it used to be. She was looking forward to that. Summer came after Spring, she knew, and it was springtime now, so summer would be the next thing. She was really excited about summer; she almost couldn’t take the anticipation. She got too excited about things. She knew that because everybody always said so. They said she was too hyper, too curious, and too impetuous. She didn’t know what most of those things were; all she knew was that she was scared a lot. Of everything, all the time.

And now, she was scared of her dad waking up in the next bedroom, and smelling what she had done: she had peed the bed again, and peeing the bed was wrong. It was what only babies did and she wasn’t a baby, and she knew she would be punished for being such a bad and stupid girl.

She was freezing from the waist down as the dampness of her body intensified the coldness of the room. She reached blindly for the blanket to cover her legs. It wasn’t there. Then she remembered her parents had taken it for the night. They didn't have a bedroom door so they always took her blanket to cover themselves whenever they wanted to play their kissy giggling grown-up game in private.

But there was a dirty sheet, at least, crumpled at the bottom of her mattress. She knew that would help a bit, and she hoped maybe it might cover up the smell too, so then her daddy would never know and then he wouldn’t hit her tomorrow, at least not for that. Then she nearly cried when she remembered the sheet was outside hanging on the line, after being washed because she had peed the bed last night too.

Frustrated, she sat up, and tried to focus in the dark. Of all the things that she was afraid of, the dark was the worst of them all. Because anything can happen in the dark. When she closed her eyes in the daytime, sometimes she saw hideous monsters floating there, reaching toward her, smiling and snarling, wanting to eat her. But she could open her eyes and they would all be gone. In the dark though, in the dead of the night, when she opened her eyes they were still there, laughing at her for trying to will them away. There was no way to turn them into nothingness. For Melody, nighttime was a very bad time.

Sitting there, freezing, listening to her daddy snore in the next room under her nice warm blanket, she became more alert, and knew she had to get the sheet. Outside, at night. She had never gone out at night by herself, not when everybody was sleeping. She wished Paul was there; he wasn’t always nice to her, but Melody knew he would protect her if he could. But he was always staying out with his friends lately, drinking beer and getting weird, doing just what her daddy did all the time. She sometimes wondered why Paul was starting to act just like Daddy when he said so many times that he hated the way Daddy was. So many things in the world seemed strange to Melody.

Then she considered waking her mommy, but that couldn’t be done without waking Daddy too and Mommy always just did what Daddy wanted her to. And she always felt like her mommy didn’t really care a lot about her anyway. She didn’t know why that was.

Melody was out of options. She was alone in this situation, and thought maybe she should just go back to sleep. Maybe getting Daddy mad in the morning wouldn’t be as bad as going outside in the dark. That thought began to seem like the better plan until she shivered again, and knew she couldn’t sleep while she was so cold.

She looked warily at the front door.

Slowly, she rose and began creeping toward it, hoping the squeaky floorboards didn’t rouse her father. Why was the floor so loud at night? she wondered. She made her way to the door, being careful not to bump into anything or step on any empty beer cans or whatever was in her path. She kept expecting a monster to jump out at her from the shadows and she whimpered at the thought as she found the door knob and began to turn it. It seemed to take forever for it to go far enough to open, but it finally did. It made a loud click and her daddy suddenly stopped snoring. She froze. She held her breath and waited, too terrified to do anything else. Then he made an ugly sound in his throat and the snoring started again. She exhaled and relaxed, but just a little, as she opened the door and peered into the vast and silent night.

There was nothing there.

She couldn’t see their nearest neighbour’s house, or the fence, or – or anything. She left the door open and began creeping along the side of the small home, terrified that someone, some thing, might grab her. She walked on, her bare feet felt the dew on the grass, and she wondered why it was wet even though it hadn’t rained. She didn’t understand, but she liked the sensation. It felt nice. It felt real, unlike the rest of this expedition. She tried to concentrate on that, instead of scary monsters, as she rounded the side of the house where the clothesline was.

The grass was taller there, even though it hadn’t had much time to grow yet, and she felt the blades of grass tickling her ankles. She could have giggled if she wasn’t so scared, and then a different feeling: she couldn’t describe it at first, but then the pain announced itself. Melody squealed and quickly moved her foot but the shard of aluminum embed in her heel stayed put.

She sat down hard on the damp lawn and grabbed her foot. She didn’t know what was stuck in her heel but it hurt, and it was making her bleed. She began crying and summoned the courage to pull it out. She threw it away but her foot was bleeding more now. She cried harder, louder, and rubbed her eyes, not realizing her hand was covered in blood. It stung, and she tried to shake away the blood that was now obscuring her vision, but without much success.

She tried to stand up; it hurt to put pressure on her bleeding foot but she limped on, toward where she imagined the clothesline to be. Then she saw the vague outline of the white sheet, rippling gently on the line. She was so excited to see it, she almost forgot about her bleeding foot as she hurried toward it.

It was then she saw the eyes, gleaming in the dark.

They were green, like little twinkling sparks, beside where she thought the shed probably was. The eyes might have even seemed pretty, if she hadn’t heard the deep, guttural growl that emanating from the same place, there in the darkness.


The bobcat had been hunting in the bush, just behind the Bannock family’s shed, when he smelled the blood. Curious, and hungry, he ventured forth, out of his protective bush, and hunched beside the shed. He wasn’t prepared, yet, to go into open territory, not until he was more confident.

Then he spotted his prey. It was much larger than some of the creatures he feasted on, almost daunting in its mass. But he’d fought and won against bigger prey than this, too. He watched the child rise and start heading generally toward him. He scanned the yard, neither seeing nor smelling any other of the creature’s herd. There was nothing that might impede his mission. The smell of its blood excited him. It was injured, and may be less able to defend itself as a result.

He slowly, cautiously rose and began creeping forward into the open, toward the creature, never taking his eyes from her.


Melody couldn’t tell for sure, but she thought maybe whatever owned those green eyes was moving closer to her. It felt crazy to her to run closer to it, but that’s what she found herself doing, as best she could with a bleeding foot, because she had to get that sheet.

It surprised the creature when she did so, and it sprang into action.

Melody snatched the sheet from the line and fled back the way she had come. Her eyes having adjusted to the darkness a little better now, she could see the shape of the house. She crumpled the sheet as she ran so she wouldn’t trip over it, and made a frantic sprint to the corner of the house.

The animal snarled, filling her with dread, as she heard it gaining on her. It moved so fast! She ran quicker than she had ever ran before. She thought maybe if she could round the corner, the creature might shoot right past, and she could be at the front and in the door before it could turn and catch her.

She was wrong.

By the time she reached the corner of the house, it was nearly upon her. She turned to run for the door, but the cat rounded the corner agilely, barely slowing its stride as it did so, and scratched at her heels when she still had some yards to go. She screamed, almost not even caring if it woke her Daddy—and then actually hoping it would. As mad as he would be at her, he would still save her. Wouldn’t he? She couldn’t be sure but she thought so.

She fell, and the bobcat was on her. She whimpered, calling for her mommy, in a reserved voice, still uncertain as to the wisdom of that. The cat pinned her to the ground and flipped her over so she was on her back. She found herself looking dead into its eyes. It was inches from her face; those eyes, green slits that glowed with intensity. She felt its hot, putrid breath on her face, and its saliva that dripped from its mouth onto her cheek. There was no doubt: she had been right about the dark. There were monsters in its depths, and they were intent on eating her.

Her mother never stirred. Melody began crying louder and louder, until she finally threw caution to the wind and began screaming for both her parents to rescue her from the beast. Still, neither of them moved but the bobcat looked to her as if it were getting madder. And hungrier.

Her parents had argued earlier while drinking, and then made up while drinking more. It had been a particularly nasty fight. Mommy will have raccoon eyes again, Melody had thought, so their making-up session went on very late, and now neither of them could be roused by the terrified squeals of their daughter in peril.

Melody realized she was as good as alone in the world. No one would be saving her from the beast. No one could. She would get eaten, or she would fight and maybe survive. She didn’t know where the strength came from amid the paralyzing fear, but she decided to fight.

She reached wildly and found an object, and grasped it tight. It was the wire coat hanger she had discarded earlier that day. The one she had bent out relatively straight and used to impale bread onto, for the fire pit out back. She called for her parents one last time to come and save her.


Her daddy’s snoring wavered a little, then found its rhythm again as he drifted back down to the depths of his drunken slumber. Melody gasped as the cat flared its nostrils and narrowed its eyes. If it noticed her hand moving, it didn’t react to it, instead keeping its eyes locked to hers. Melody intuitively maintained eye contact with the creature so it would focus on hers instead of turning to bite her hand.

She inched the hanger closer.

The cat growled, deep in its belly. Melody suddenly swung around with the hanger in her tiny fist. The wildcat pawed her shoulder, but didn’t manage to stop her arm’s momentum. It bit her then, sinking its fangs deep into her thin forearm, and she screamed, but refused to let go of her weapon. She cried out, and it tried to bite her mouth. It opened its own mouth wide as it launched. It snarled at her again, and Melody turned her head away as she shoved the hanger deep into the creature’s eye socket.

The bobcat slunk back, uttered a horrific, menacing sound and dug its claws into Melody’s thighs. It tore through her tiny legs like paper, and tried to reach higher; it wanted her throat. It began clawing its way back up her body, gouging her belly, her chest, her shoulders... Melody had never been so terrified, and in so much pain, but she refused to let up. She didn’t care how scary the monster was. She wanted to win. Maybe this is what impetuous meant. She knew as long as she held the hanger and wouldn’t let the creature get rid of it, that she had a chance of getting through this nightmare. The only thing that could save her, she thought, was herself, and her impetuous.

She pulled the hanger out of the cat’s eye then, and blood squirted from its socket. The eye drooped, and blood oozed down its face onto Melody’s hair, her face, and neck. She wished she could aim, but couldn’t manage; the creature’s blood had sprayed into her eyes. She shut them tight and stabbed blindly at its body as it continued to screech and claw at her. She opened her left eye a little despite the sting of the bobcat’s blood in it, and saw the creature’s gaping mouth heading toward her neck. No! Melody screamed and jabbed the hanger far down into its mouth. She felt it stick into the back of the cat’s throat. It gurgled and spasmed and its one good eye opened wide in terror. Melody felt its claws contracting and she struggled to kick it off her body. She couldn’t have done it all by herself, but the cat obliged, turned and raced haphazardly from the property, away toward the dirt road and was swallowed again by the very darkness from whence it came.

Melody sat up, trembling, crying in pain, relieved to be alive... but dismayed. She wished she had killed it. She was angry now; she wished she had pulled the life from the monster, crushed it, so it could never come back and hurt her again. That would warn all the monsters to stay away too. But she had failed, so she knew there would be more.

She quietly made her way back into the house, limped to her mattress, and sat down. She stared blankly into the dark. The child was in shock. She held up her hands and looked at them curiously, as best she could in the dim room. Blood dripped from her hands onto her legs and mattress. She wasn’t sure if it was the cat’s blood or her own. She didn’t feel it was important to know which. Her legs stung really badly. She looked down at them, exposed from mid-thigh. They were red, swollen, and gouged from the cat’s claws. She stopped crying, and vowed she would be sure to kill the next one dead. She would kill all the monsters.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Books and beer on tap as Chaucer's adds library

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Divide and Conquer

Divide and Conquer


Remote Northern Switzerland – Autumn, 1837

Saffron’s body was still good and firm even though she’d been a fortnight dead. The weather had preserved her well, so although the old horse wouldn’t be pulling the carriage another yard, she was still pulling her weight by providing sustenance for the desperate party – who prayed her meat might outlast the storm.

The mid-October gale had caught them off guard; it howled through the already-treacherous Jura mountain passage, evening the landscape under a uniform cotton shroud and leaving the trail indistinguishable from its surrounding countryside. The terrain wiped flat — save where huge, swirling drifts rose and formed impassable barricades — it was all but impossible for the hapless group to continue navigating their way to the crossing point on the Rhine, still some thirty miles on.

The ferocious winds had tossed their carriage like a children’s toy, had flipped it effortlessly and weakened its frame upon landing it again. Their essential provisions having flown off and away, were scattered widely and then buried under a foot or more of fresh snow in the outlying fields. And during the long nights, wild beasts, better equipped for the task of scavenging there, made off with whatever edibles they could find. By the time the blizzard relented three days later, leaving frigid temperatures in its wake, there was precious little left for the family to eat, and old Saffron, having had enough, had simply laid down, died, and froze.

But Leopold Wyler was no grand butcher, so what might have been generous choice cuts, enough for a score of days, had been recklessly discarded with the actual waste during the butchering process. Unbeknownst to Leopold, of course, was that had that meat been saved, countless girls’ lives might also have been saved over many ensuing years; such is the way of fate.

Leopold’s young wife, Angelica, along with their unborn child, had been relegated to passenger status within the carriage while he, his sister Rebekka, and her husband Julius Frey, filled in for the late Saffron and slowly forced the carriage along the trail, through the heavy snow. Finding the trail ahead had become as arduous a task as traversing it now, as slipping off the edge could be detrimental to the carriage’s chassis; it having been compromised during the storm, and patchworked back together into a precarious state of functionality.

And then Julius was at the left rear, pushing and puffing, when the carriage slid into a rut and tilted wildly toward him. He stumbled and slipped into the rut himself, his foot being crushed before he had time and balance enough to pull it back. He cursed his maker as he realized he was pinned. Inside, Angelica had fallen across the seat and hit her elbow hard against a furious Fantôme, Rebekka’s cat, as the carriage had jolted and come to a sudden stop. She awkwardly pulled herself upright, and sighed heavily. Her baby kicked, as if it too were frustrated with this latest annoyance.
Angelica had enough of being coddled. “Stay,” she told Fantôme, who gazed back at her defiantly. She unlatched the carriage door and kicked it open. Fantôme dove out the door and nearly disappeared in the snow. She looked around, and then back at the door, as if having immediately regretted her escape. Rebekka immediately came to the cat’s rescue, rescuing her from the snow, and glancing hard at Angelica. 

Angelica paid her no mind. She looked around, assessing the situation as she climbed down. She slammed the door when she felt ground underfoot, hiked high her skirts, and made her way to the carriage’s rear center. Rebekka returned the grateful feline to the relative comfort and safety of the cab before following her sister-in-law.

“Pull...” Angelica began as Rebekka took up position beside her. “One, two, three, and... push!” Angelica’s shrill voice cut through the crisp air. She repeated the command several times, creating momentum in the carriage’s movement as her husband and in-laws abided on cue. And on the third push! the carriage escaped its hold and freed a relieved Julius from its grip. 

“Hurrah!” said Leopold, from his position near the front. Rebekka and Julius joined the chorus but a piercing crack! cut short their ovation.

Leopold stumbled when the axle snapped and the carriage lurched. Again, it had come to an abrupt stop but determination and physics would not save the beleaguered party this time. They stood in silence for a moment, each of them shivering and feeling the full weight of this newest defeat. But none would call it that; it was as if admitting the reality would somehow allow them to succumb to it. Leopold moved to hug his wife. Angelica squeezed his hand in response. She peered through the now lightly-falling snow at the errantly-sloping landscape that had been their domain for the better part of a week. She scanned the immediate area: down along the bottom of a nearby dale the remains of a small forest, having burned down some years before, jutted up at awkward angles from the otherwise flat basin, like lost and disoriented soldiers in the aftermath of a fierce and pointless battle. 

“There,” Angelica said thoughtfully. She pointed, and the ragged family obligingly followed to where her shivering finger directed their gaze. “Do you think a new axle could perhaps be found down there? The newer growth will be too soft, of course, and the old, mostly bent and brittle but there may be one good old piece that’s long and solid enough for our needs, no?”

“Perhaps something,” Julius agreed, nodding. “Shall we go see what’s down there in the morning, Leopold?” He looked to his brother-in-law, but Leopold was already on his way, axe in hand, trudging through the snow. Julius limped after him, soon being led through a makeshift path the width of Leopold’s body, as the snow became deeper the further they travelled toward the skeletons of the old forest.

Rebekka moved to stand closer to Angelica and they watched their men for a short time until their backs were swallowed by the dark. “Back in the cab for you, young madam,” Rebekka said. “There’s nothing else we can do at the moment, except pray.”

Angelica nodded her tacit agreement, silently noting that a great deal of prayer had only managed to deliver them to their current predicament. But she climbed back in as instructed and attempted to soothe her child by gently rubbing her stomach and humming a lullaby she half-remembered from her youth. Having apparently forgiven her, Fantôme nestled up to her leg. The poor thing could use more meat on her bones, Angelica thought.

She unknowingly began dozing, dreaming of her family’s new life across the border, away from the strict rules governing Jews in their native Switzerland. She was preparing lunch on their farm; it was a modest one, but it was theirs.  Her child played carefree on the floor beside her, occasionally yanking at her skirt, babbling and giggling. They had decided to call the child Freddy, if a boy, otherwise, Frederica. In the dream, it was a little girl.

It was warm in her dream, and Leopold was there, walking back to the small home for a midday meal after working up a sweat, turning soil for the turnip and cabbage seeds to be soon planted. He was handsome and brawny, his muscles glistening in the bright sun. He waved and she pretended not to see him. He called her name and chased some fat chickens out of his path, off the lane that meandered up to the quaint farmhouse. Angelica looked around, in every direction save the right one, pretending to search for the source of the voice. She shielded her eyes from the sun and scanned the breadth of the property: there was no one at the eastern end where the sturdy new barn reached into the sky.

“Angelica!” he called. Again, she focused her attention the wrong way and tried not to smile. This time to the western orchard, where red apples hung temptingly from the trees there, approaching their peak ripeness…

“Angelica! Oh my god, Angelica!” 

It was Rebekka. Angelica stirred, quickly regained her bearings, and snapped the curtain back to look through the crudely-cut window at the stark grey sky of the present.

“What’s wrong, Rebekka?” she asked, weary dread rippling her words.

Rebekka pointed to where the men had gone. Angelica couldn’t get a proper view from her vantage point and hurriedly exited the cab. She tried to focus in the dark and saw Julius running and stumbling and waving, making his way up the hill toward them. He was severely agitated. He yelled something but neither woman could make out the words. There was no sign of Leopold, and Angelica’s heart sank. She felt nauseated. 

“W-where’s Leo though?” she vaguely heard herself ask Rebekka, but she knew the question was pointless; Rebekka couldn’t know. When Julius got near enough that they could see the stark severity of his eyes, they finally understood the words he had been yelling: wolves. Wolves, he was yelling, and Leopold.

Angelica started running down into the forest valley, circumventing Julius but he grabbed her and stopped her from progressing. She beat at his chest, screaming for her husband, but Julius held her firmly, silently weeping at her shoulder. Rebekka joined them and the three huddled there for a considerable time until the madness had subsided from Angelica’s eyes and the tears finally came.


They had fled from Angelica’s home of Endingen, in north central Switzerland some five weeks prior. Leopold had been raised in nearby Lengnau and spent the days labouring on a farm there alongside Angelica’s father, Samuel Bollag. A reserved soul by nature, Samuel had disliked his boisterous fieldmate, and that was incentive enough for the man’s daughter to take a romantic interest in the lad. Once she did, she had been surprised to find she was very fond of him and, after a long while, worked up the courage to tell her father so.

“Bah,” Samuel had said. “Don’t be foolish, girl.”

“He’s clever, Father, and funny, too,” Angelica had said in Leopold’s defence.

“Funny and clever? If you mean cocky, then, yes, I agree. But cocky doesn’t put soup in the belly, my dear,” Samuel said, as if explaining to a child. “Sweat does. Keeping quiet, with your mind on your work, that’s what builds a home and a secure family.”

“He’s ambitious too,” she offered, and immediately knew that was about the worst thing she could have said.

“Ah, ambitious, is he? The most dangerous of all traits.” Samuel smiled without humour, his eyes remaining hard. “Ambition will get a Jew’s throat cut quicker than anything else, except, perhaps, being funny and clever.”

“What should he do, then, Father? Accept his fate, and that of his future children, and that’s that? We’re forbidden from nearly every kind of decent, honest work! What can we do? Sow the seeds for Protestants and Catholics to reap? Trade tattered rags for nearly nothing on the pitiless streets? Where can we live, Father? Tell me! Here, and in Lengnau, and nowhere else? What life is that, Father? Forbidden to live in all but two towns in all of the cursed land!”

“It is a life, yes. As opposed to a death,” Samuel said. “I’m glad you’ve finally come to your senses and realized that.”

“Play with my words if you wish but Leopold has dreams, and I do too. Together we can work toward the change our people need and deserve. We deserve it, Father!”

“Of course we deserve it!” Samuel slammed his calloused palm on the table and Angelica tensed. “But deserve and expect are not the same, Angelica. Deserve and receive are even greater strangers. That’s a difference you stupid young people need to learn before you get hurt, and get others hurt along with you!” he roared. And when he saw his daughter’s tears of frustration commence, he calmed considerably and made to comfort her. “That’s what this is about, my child. I’m so afraid that Leopold’s high and mighty ideals will deliver you to a life of misery, or to no life at all. Don’t you understand that? His kind… his kind,” he shook his head sadly, “they never persevere.” Samuel reached across the table and took her trembling hand in his. “I have seen their fates, my dear. The dismal fates of a dozen Leopolds, maybe a hundred of them.” He patted her hand. He got up, blew out the candle, and left her alone at the table. From the other room he added, “There’s no shame in a hard day’s labour, Angelica. He just needs to get used to it. His childish fantasies will subside with time. They do for all of us.”

On a logical level, she knew her father made sense. But someone had to make the change, she thought. Why not Leopold? She knew her stance would not waver, and neither would her father’s, but peace would have to be made, somehow. 


Samuel had been mortified on that late afternoon when Leopold had come to dinner and announced his intentions toward Angelica. He decided then that Leopold was an evil, treacherous rat who had tricked his naive child into romance. This was a notion that his wife Alina, scoffed at, and one that Angelica found highly offensive. She refused to speak to her father for days until he apologized and accepted Leopold into the family, however grudgingly. 

Contrary to the common mores of the local Christians, Jewish women had never acted subservient to their men and had never allowed themselves to be treated as lesser people simply due to their sex. Wiser Jewish men, for their part, knew they daren’t even try.
Leopold, then, was welcomed as Samuel’s son-in-law. Because Samuel knew he had no choice.


He never did come to view the situation quite as his daughter and her husband did, or agree that leaving the country was the best thing for her, but Samuel knew that he must accept it. Sombrely, he had helped them load the carriage on that late-September morning when they departed and, as a show of love and support, offered them his trusty horse, Saffron, in trade for the thinner and weaker one Leopold had planned on using for the journey. “If you are to make it,” Samuel had assured them, “it will be with the help of able ol’ Saffron.”


Angelica looked blankly at the greying horsemeat in her lap and forced herself to take another bite. As long as it still hadn’t turned, she needed to consume its nourishment for the sake of her child, whether she wished to eat it or not. Mechanically, she chewed and tried to find the will to carry on.
It had been three days since Leopold’s death. She took turns, along with Julius and Rebekka, guarding the carriage with an old shotgun; the onslaught of wolf packs had become a very real threat with the aroma of meat roasting over the fire. Night and day, the small troupe kept vigil but the wild animals never returned. Julius eventually got the axle replaced and they set off once again, slower than ever, one man short, and with a rapidly declining source of food. On the seventh day, the last sad remains of Saffron were divided up, cooked over a small fire, and dished out. And then it was Fantôme’s turn, but she only lasted a day.

After four more days as the hunger became unbearable, Julius forced himself on a foraging expedition early in the day and not returning until dusk, acting sheepish and peculiar when he did. He had with him, wrapped in his jacket, a piece of meat he said he found jutting out of the snow, just beyond that old forest where the new axle was found. 

“It’s the thigh of an elk,” he said, “It was quite a stroke a luck to come across it.” He avoided the women’s gazes and cooked it behind the carriage in lee of the bitter northerly winds. The smell was glorious to the ravished threesome as it began to sizzle. Fearing the scent would attract predators, they remained on guard as they salivated and impatiently waited for it to be thoroughly cooked. Julius scraped off the first piece for Angelica, who took it reluctantly but then gorged herself on it, chewing and swallowing faster as the taste became more palatable. She thought she could feel her child being satiated as her own hunger subsided for the first time in days. 

Was elk the best he could come up with? she thought. It wasn’t nearly the right shape for elk, nor an appropriate length.

How had the wolves managed to leave an entire thigh behind? she wondered, but she couldn’t ask. To ask would be to break the communal lie. She closed her eyes and tried to think of elk meat as she chewed the bit of flesh she had just torn from the bone with her teeth. Still, despite Julius’s crude fabrication, she was grateful to him for allowing her – for allowing all of them – to pretend it was something other than Leopold’s leg they were dining on; it helped to make it just a little more tolerable.

But it wasn’t a full two days later when the hunger had returned worse than ever – and there would be no more Leopold legs to feast on. On the sixth day thereafter, without a scrap to eat since, the three sat in the cab in silence. Julius and Rebekka huddled together on one side, Angelica spread out on the other. She appeared to be asleep, but remained very much alert.

Because she had heard the whispers in the night, and she was hearing them again now.

She couldn’t make them out, yet knew exactly what they meant. Despite their misgivings, her travelling companions were planning to kill her and eat her; it was the only logical conclusion they could come to. Someone had to be eaten for the others to have a chance at survival. Rebekka and Julius never slept at the same time anymore. One of them always remained awake. Why? Was it to ensure she couldn’t get them before they got her? Angelica toyed with the idea that hunger might be making her paranoid, but she soon discarded the notion; her mind was all too clear. The body of a woman, with child, could feasibly supply enough energy to help the couple make it to the Rhine, at least if there was to be a mild break in the weather. It was two against one, Angelica thought. Or, perhaps, against one and a half.

She feared sleep but she was so desperately tired. If not today, then tomorrow it will happen. It will be soon when they kill me in my sleep and begin feeding on me and my baby. Angelica’s mind raced. She pitied herself and her insane predicament. How can I save my child? She hadn’t the strength to fight off the two of them, she was sure of it, not even if she wasn’t weak and nearly eight months pregnant. That was out of the question. She would have to somehow outsmart them. And fast. Emperor Napoleon, who was sympathetic to the Jews, she recalled, had often outwitted stronger, more powerful enemies – and enemies were what her in-laws now were, she had to admit. Adversaries in a life and death struggle. What would Napoleon do? she asked herself.
The answer came to her almost immediately: divide and conquer.


The whispers stopped when Angelica opened her eyes — stopped too abruptly, it seemed to her. Rebekka and Julius both smiled meekly at her. She smiled back. 

“I’m going out to melt some snow for water,” she said. “Unless there’s some to drink in here?” she asked, knowing that there wasn’t, since no one had left the cab during her supposed nap.
“Sorry, I should have gotten some for you,” Julius offered. “Let me get it now.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I need the air. It’s a little milder this day, no?” she said. The Freys uttered vague agreements. Angelica hobbled out, closed the door behind her, and filled a tin pitcher halfway up with fresh snow from beside the trail. “Oh, perhaps you could start the fire for me, Julius?” she called. Moments later, he was out there with her, struggling to ignite a flame without much in the way of kindling. He muttered something unintelligible but it didn’t matter; she replied with a loud giggle, one sounding flirtatious, she hoped, to Rebekka from inside the carriage. Julius gave Angelica a quizzical look, laughed awkwardly in return, and went back to concentrating on the fire. “I’ll just go back in, away from the wind, until it’s going well, alright?” she said, hoping Rebekka had heard Julius’s laughter as well as her own. He nodded, but she didn’t notice, as she had already climbed back inside.

“The baby okay?” Rebekka asked.

”I think so. It seems a little better than yesterday even,” Angelica lied.

“That’s surprising, but certainly a good thing.”

“Yes, it may have been Julius’s comfort during the night. You’re so lucky to have him, Rebekka. He’s truly a wonderful man.”

“Comfort?” asked Rebekka.

“Yes, and body heat. I loved how he rubbed my belly and... well, elsewhere... to help keep me warm and comfortable. I was truly relaxed for the first time in days. It made quite the difference.”

“Oh, I…” Rebekka tried. “I wasn’t aware he did that.” 

“Yes, he said it was important to protect the child. He does love children so much, doesn’t he? It’s a shame you’ve never been able to give him a child yourself. So sad, for both of you.”
Rebekka had no reply.

Angelica had been aware that, even this far along in her pregnancy, Rebekka felt inferior to her, as a woman — as a sexual being. She knew Rebekka was a little jealous of her, her looks, her manner, and especially of her unborn child. It was something that never would have been an issue under regular circumstances, but something Angelica felt she may be able to leverage now, during this desperate time. It was cruel, and devious, and the only thing she could think of that might help her live throughout the night.


She played the charade out subtly for the rest of the daylight hours, feeling the tension building between the couple, with poor Julius oblivious to the cause of his wife’s consternation. Angelica forced herself to stay awake despite crippling hunger that begged for a reprieve through at least a short spell of unconsciousness, until just past dusk when she finally allowed herself to lie down. Rebekka now believed, Angelica was certain, that Julius was planning on killing her, so he could survive with Angelica and help her raise her baby.

Then it was Rebekka’s turn to force away sleep. Angelica had no idea if she could outlast her. She had her doubts, but the survival of her child was a powerful incentive. She felt like squealing with delight when, finally, she heard Rebekka lightly snoring. She waited an agonizing ten minutes more before motioning to Julius to come over to her side of the cab. Seemingly bewildered, he yawned and obeyed. She whispered to him that she was cold and asked if he could he rub her belly for a few moments. The notion of touching her seemed to rattle him a little, and Angelica suppressed a sly smile. But he reluctantly obliged; he couldn’t say no to her, and when his hand was particularly low on her stomach, Angelica coughed loudly and laughed, arousing Rebekka on the opposite seat. 
Rebekka immediately assessed the situation, noting that her husband had his arm around Angelica instead of her, and his other hand had been suspiciously out of sight and doing god knows what down there before he quickly removed it, looking guilty. Rebekka screamed with rage and rummaged through her possessions quickly, finding the handle of the cast-iron frying pan, and swinging it wildly into the side of her husband’s head. Julius had tried to speak just before the impact shut him up and rendered him unconscious, leaving slouched against the side of the cab.

Angelica didn’t miss a beat. The moment the pan struck Julius, she pulled the butcher knife from her left coat pocket and reached across, burying it deep in Rebekka’s belly, and then yanking it up tight to the woman’s sternum. Rebekka gasped, her eyes widened in disbelief, and she instinctively used both hands to try to hold her guts in place. Her effort was admirable for a short time, until she fell over on the seat, with her dead eyes staring uncomprehendingly toward Angelica, and her innards escaping down the seat and creating a mound on the cab floor. 

Julius began to regain his senses. He moaned and held his forehead where the pan had struck. He groaned, and moved to push Angelica aside when he saw his wife was in some sort of medical distress. But he wasn’t quick enough, not having the comprehension and clarity of the situation as Angelica had. She acted fast while she had the upper hand, quickly pulling the knife from Rebekka’s midsection and swinging it over and backhanded across Julius’s throat. That attempt merely grazed him, so she tried again, deeper, more determinedly, more accurately, and with more success. The dullish knife gouged, more than cut, his throat and Julius slouched once more, but remained upright as the blood poured from him, and Angelica watched his life drain with it. She tried to get away from him, but weak, tired, and frantic, it took her a few almost-comical manoeuvres with her large belly before she managed to get released from his grip, and outside into the brisk evening air.

She leaned against the carriage trying to catch her breath, to breathe the fresh air deeply, and then she bent over and tried to be sick. But nothing came. She dry heaved for a long time, worrying how her child was faring with the physical and emotional distress on their systems. But then the nervous convulsions thankfully subsided. Angelica stared up, emotionless, into the night sky.


The only dry matches had been in Julius’s pocket. Soaked in blood, she allowed them to dry for two days before attempting to use one. During that time she had cleaned out the cab and cut the meat from the bodies of her in-laws as best she could. Starving, she was desperate to get the fire started and to get some protein into her for her child’s wellbeing. When she finally tried, she found the matches useless. Despite desperate hunger, she waited another day until she was quite certain the matches were as dry as they could get. She even tried to delicately scrape some of the dried blood from the sulphur tips of a few of them, but that failed too. Something about the blood, she surmised, had made the matches ineffective, so they could not ignite. 

There would be no cooking of the meat.

Over the next few days Angelica tried several times to eat some of her in-laws’ raw remains that she had managed to keep from freezing. Each time, she vomited violently immediately thereafter, rendering the attempts futile – and the meat wasted. She kept trying, however, and once in a while tried another match until they were all so torn and scraped up that they wouldn’t have been able to ignite in the most pristine of environments. Eventually, she had to admit it was pointless, and she broke down sobbing. She could feel the essence of her child waning.


A week later, feverish, half-crazed, she looked wild-eyed to the vague distance, screamed to it, and smashed the skull of Rebekka—the part of the body she had first discarded as useless. The bloated purple face cracked and Angelica turned that side down into the snow so she wouldn’t have to look into its cold, accusing eyes. Then she broke away the thick bone and cupped out the woman’s brain. It was cold, of course, but remained just soft enough to eat, thanks to its cranial insulation. Without hesitation, she took a deep bite into the front of the left hemisphere. 

And it was good. Palatable, at least. She could almost feel her child’s gratitude with every bite.
As the weather finally cleared and the snow began to melt, Angelica felt stronger, rejuvenated, and she decided she was now healthy enough to head out on foot. There wasn’t much of Rebekka’s brain left, but Julius’s head was in her sack, and that gave her comfort as she headed east with the brilliant morning sun splashing her face with glorious warmth.