The Adventures of Spring (a children’s story)

Spring was excited as they drove to their new home by the river. She sat alongside her human daddy peering out of the windshield for the first glimpse of the house. And there it was sitting proudly by the water. She loved the space, especially the bright patio. It gave her the chance to bathe in the sun and check out the world beyond the many glass windows. It was so different than the apartment she lived in before.

One day a black and white cat came to visit. He waited outside the screen door.

“Hello there,” purred the new cat. “My name is CC. What’s yours?”

“Spring,” she said in return. “CC. That’s a strange name.”

“It’s short for Calico Cat. My parents love nicknames. Your name is strange. Spring. Were you born in April?”

“No. When I was a kitten I would spring in the air to a tremendous height.”

“Oh, I would like to see that. Come out and play,” Calico said to his new friend.

“I can’t,” answered Spring, “I am an indoor cat. My parents are worried about coyotes, eagles, and tom cats.”

“I have roamed this area for years and I have not been attacked by wild animals. I have been scared by a few humans, though. I also don’t know of any cats called Tom. I know a Lucy, but she’s a dog. I’ll introduce you one day.”

“That’s nice of you. But there’s no way for me to sneak out.”

“Too bad. There’s lots of fun to be had out here.” And with that CC took off.

Spring thought about the world beyond the house and wondered what it was like. She knew her human parents would not let her venture outside. Spring understood their concerns but was still disappointed.

One day another new visitor came calling. He, too, sat outside the patio door.

 “Hi. I’m Chester,” said the chipmunk busy stuffing peanuts into his mouth.

Spring introduced herself.  She watched transfixed as Chester’s cheeks swelled as if he had two small eggs in each side of his mouth. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Put all that food in your mouth without swallowing.”

“I never thought about it. I just do it. CC tells me that you can spontaneously jump high. How do you do that?”

“I don’t know I never thought about that either. I just can.”

“Come out and play,” said Chester as he stuffed yet another peanut into his continually bulging cheeks.

“I can’t. My parents will not allow it.”

“I have lived here longer than anyone and I know all the secret places including how to get in and out of your house.” Chester rearranged the food in his mouth and then turned away. “I will be back. Right now I have to take my supper home. See you soon.” And with that he turned away.

Spring thought about venturing outside. The river looked inviting. And there were lots of birds flying around. Spring was fascinated by birds.

A couple of days later both CC and Chester came to visit once again. They had seen Spring’s parents drive away. 

“Can you come out to play today?” asked CC through the screen door. “We want to take you to the enchanted forest.”

“That sounds wonderful. Maybe, if I can figure out how to get out of the house.”

Chester, who had stopped eating momentarily, asked: “Are you able to get down to the basement?”

“Yes”, Spring replied.

Chester then told his new feline friend the secret of how to get out of the house. “But you can’t tell anyone else. Promise?”

And Spring nodded her head in agreement.

The escape was easier than she had thought. Once outside she met up with her two new friends, but she did not stop to gossip. CC and Chester watched her as she chased birds around the maple tree in the front garden; how she scampered up the tree and back down again excitedly.  She raced up and down the lawn as if she was in a race. Her two new friends looked at each other with bewilderment. Have we befriended a crazy kitty, they both thought.  

“Let’s go meet Lucy,” said CC. “I told her we would introduce you two.”

Spring stopped chasing invisible butterflies and joined her friends. The three of them wandered down the road. The two cats had to walk slowly so Chester could keep up.

From the bushes in the back garden they watched Lucy sit defiantly while her human owner pulled on the leash to get Lucy to walk. But she was having none of it. She was not moving. With a sigh of frustration the human owner gave up and unhooked Lucy’s leash and went indoors. Once the coast was clear the three animal friends emerged from their hiding place and scampered towards Lucy.

“Hi Lucy. This is Spring.”

“Please to meet you,” said Lucy as she turned to her new neighbour.

“Likewise,” replied Spring.

“We are going down to the enchanted forest, Lucy” interjected CC. “Do you want to join us?”

“Love to.”

“But I did not think you wanted to go for a walk,” questioned Spring.

“Oh, that’s Lucy just giving her human dad a hard time.” explained Chester.

“Follow me,” and with that CC headed towards the woods at the bottom of the street.

Lucy followed behind, then Spring, with Chester bringing up the rear.

Spring asked the chipmunk:”Why do they call it the enchanted forest?”

“Humans leave toys and tokens at the foot of tree trunks. That’s so the fairies can play with their gifts,” answered Chester.

“There are fairies in the forest?” asked Spring bewildered.

“Not that we have seen. But then again humans have never heard us animals talk, but, of course, we can,” stated CC with a mischievous smile. “Let’s go down to the river,” he instructed his friends, and with that he took off towards the water.

Spring followed her friends through the woods constantly looking for fairies. But she could see none.

At the river Lucy ran excitedly up and down the bank barking at the ducks and geese. CC looked on amused. “Come on. Let’s find something to do,” he said. The four friends all went in different directions looking for something that would amuse them. “Here we go,” said CC as he raised his paw to point at a short plank of wood trapped by the water’s edge. “I’ve found a boat. Weee,” he purred as his jumped aboard with gusto. The momentum of his landing pushed the wood away from the bank and the current carried the cat and his “boat” downstream. “This is fun,” he shouted to his friends who were running along the bank as their friend drifted down stream. But then the current sped up and CC was getting further ahead. The friends had trouble keeping up.

“Why doesn’t he jump off?” asked Spring.

“He can’t swim,” said Lucy.

The three friends looked on worried as CC prowled anxiously on the deck of his “boat”.

Up ahead was a high stone wall. Over the top of the wall a branch reached out towards the water. Its tip bent down towards the river but was at least a metre above the surface.

“CC,” squeaked Chester, “there is a branch ahead. Can you reach it?”

But CC shook his head. He was scared.

Spring had an idea. She raced ahead and got in front of her adventurous friend to just beneath the branch and then, just as she had done as a kitten, somehow launched herself into the air. With her claws she clung to the over-hanging branch and pulled herself up. Carefully she walked towards the end of the branch. The closer she got to the tip the more the branch bent down towards the water. By the time CC drifted to the branch it was almost touching the water. Quickly, he scampered to safety.

Lucy and Chester cheered with relief.

“As good as your name,” said CC with bravado, as if there had been no danger at all. Then he added an appreciative purr and nuzzled spring as he made his way along the branch.

The two cats made their way to the wall, and then carefully, with their paws gently sliding down the brick surface, jumped back on solid ground.

“I have to get home before my parents arrive,” said Spring. “They will worry if they don’t find me.”

With that all four friends took off in a hurry.

Spring found the secret entrance to the basement and said goodbye to her new friends. She entered the house and took her place in her soft bed. Shortly after Mum and Dad returned home.

“They you are my Spring,” said Mum. “We bought you a new toy,” added Dad. He waved a stuffed ball in front of Spring. “Sorry we can’t let you out. But we hope this will amuse you.” Spring jumped up on her Dad’s lap but she was disinterested in the simple token. She had experienced adventure. If only they knew, she thought to herself.

Fate Punctures The Night

It was the week before Christmas. I had had a good day. My throat cancer had not given me any trouble. I had been able to speak with my fragile voice to shop assistants as I completed last minute holiday shopping in Fort Erie. They had understood me even through the Covid mask covering my mouth. That afternoon I received a text from Diane, my girlfriend, who worked in Niagara Falls, to say that she was going out for cocktails after work at Taps, the bar close to her office. She would text me once again when it was time to pick her up.

That text came in just after dark. Feeling good about the day’s accomplishment I set off in Diane’s car along the Queen Elizabeth Highway, a thirty minute route we have taken almost on a daily basis. I knew the turns, the lane changes, and the irritating set of road works that had been in place since we had moved to Fort Erie a year earlier. The traffic was reasonably heavy but moving smoothly through the night along the three lane highway. As I approached the first set of road works traffic was reduced to one lane. Suddenly, there was a large thump. The Honda Civic had hit a large pothole. The car made a horrible thumping noise and failed to ride smoothly. Dreading the worst I pulled over to the tight shoulder in the middle of the road works and pushed the dashboard button for the hazard lights. There, flashing amber lights blinked in the darkness of this lonely stretch of road. Cars and trucks sped past at 90kms. an hour along the single lane. I carefully opened my driver’s door and walked around to the front of the vehicle knowing what I would find. Sure enough, the front tire on the passenger side was flat. Damn. In years past, I would have changed the tire myself, but this was not my car. I did not know the procedures, and this was a limited space on the hard shoulder. And it was a tar black night.

I returned to the car on the passenger side and buckled the seat belt. If another vehicle was going to rear end me I did not want to be sent through the windshield. I texted Diane on my iPhone to give her the bad news. Call CAA (Canadian Automobile Association), she replied. I tested my voice to make sure it was still working (with throat cancer mucous from the lungs can cover the prosthesis at any moment to prevent speech). It was working reasonably well and I thought I might be understood. No such luck. The operator, unable to decipher my gargled voice and thinking it was a bad connection, hung up on me twice. I texted Diane back and asked her to call, giving her my approximate location. She replied that a truck was on the way. With an “OK” reply I relaxed and sat back in the seat. I checked the battery icon on my phone and was relieved to see that it was almost 100%.

The rear view mirror caught the reflection of flashing lights about fifty metres away. Thinking it might be the tow truck I emerged from the vehicle only to be disappointed. It was another vehicle in trouble. He too must have hit the same pothole and had a flat tire. Disappointed I returned to the car.

Thirty minutes later the phone rang. It was a CAA operator. Diane had told her about my throat cancer and she was very patient as I explained my situation. Apparently, a truck had been dispatched but could not find me. She asked me to describe where I was. There were no signs or turnoffs so I did the best I could. After I hung up I thought why I don’t get an exact location via the GPS on my iPhone. Duh! I switched on the map icon, found the mark and was prepared to send the details to the operator when suddenly my phone went black. I rebooted the power button, but now it was showing the image of a drained battery. Impossible, I thought. There was a full charge minutes ago. I kept trying to re-start the phone, but no luck.

Now I had no communication at all. I was stranded. A disabled car, an empty phone, and only a limited voice, if any at all. It was pitch black. I could not get out and walk along the highway. If the tow truck driver could not find me I was there until morning. The other car fifty metres behind me was still flashing lights and it occurred to me that maybe I could go and talk to the individual. If my voice was working…

Out of frustration I continued to toggle the phone buttons hoping power would come back on. Then suddenly it sprang back to life. Thankful for this momentary luck, I texted Diane that the phone was dying. Immediately after the text was sent the phone went black again.

After a frustrating period sitting in the chilly front seat I once again spotted amber lights flashing in the rear view mirror. It appeared to be the tow truck driver, but he had pulled up to the car behind thinking it was me. Quickly, I ran down the hard shoulder hoping to catch the driver before he took off or became confused by two of us stranded in the same spot. Much to my relief it was the CAA guy looking for me. The other driver was in the middle of changing his tire. He, too, had hit the large pot hole.

The tow truck pulled up behind the Honda Civic. The driver positioned a bright lantern beside the deflated tire. He then asked me if I had “the key” for the wheel. I had no idea what he was talking about. (As it turns out the Civics have a locked lug nut). Maybe in the glove compartment, he suggested. Luckily, there it was. Within five minutes he had the car jacked up, the tire off, and the spare in place. I was so relieved. He was such a nice man, who set about his task with calm and a sense of humour. I gave him a generous tip. It was worth every cent.

With no phone I continued my journey to Niagara Falls thinking Diane may still be at Taps. But she was not there. Our friends Phil and Lori lived close by so I went to their place and explained the situation. Lori called Diane. She was back in Fort Erie. She had gone looking for me. A friend had driven her. (Later, once my phone was working again, I discovered numerous texts from both Diane and CAA trying to locate me.) I returned to the car and made my way home careful not to hit another pothole, thankful that things had turned out any worse. We take communication for granted, both voice and phone. Without it we can feel stranded. What a start to Christmas!

We Can Work it Out: Witness To A (Musical) Revolution

It was the fall of 1998. I was working in television as a reporter/producer for the TheNewMusic, a weekly journalistic show inspired by Rolling Stone magazine. Since its inception in 1979 it had become one of Canada’s most important shows about the continually changing face of music and its industry: new artists attempting to gain attention, established artists trying to hold on to the spotlight, numerous documentaries about the rock and roll lifestyle, and new musical technologies.

Up until that point it had only been the creation of vinyl records, cassettes, the Walkman, and then compact discs that had dramatically changed the music industry. The road to evolution was littered with smart inventions that had not caught the public’s imagination or the media industries’ enthusiasm. There had been laser discs, mini-discs, and Q sound; all brilliant in their own way, but now either obsolete or confined to audio nerds. Just because something was better, smarter, smoother, it did not guarantee commercial success.

One day, while doing research, I read a story about a new gadget that would allow the music fan to download songs in the new MP3 format (I had no idea what that meant) and then listen to them while they went for a walk. In short, it made the music files locked into your desktop computer, mobile. The name of the new device was the Diamond Rio. This looked like a fascinating story, whether it worked or not. I contacted the company, explained who I was and what the show was all about, and asked if they could send me the Rio. A short time later it arrived. It was one of the first such machines in Canada.

When I opened the box there was this little black object smaller than the size of a packet of cigarettes. I had no idea how to use it. My personal music collection may have been vast, but my technological skills were slight. I did not even own a cell phone at the time. I had never even downloaded a song. But there was an IT department on the fifth floor in the company building. It had been created a couple of years earlier, and staffed with people hired to make sense, and utilize “all this computer stuff” happening in the world. Ah, I thought, they will know what to do with this. And so off I went to the fifth floor with the little gadget in hand.

Unannounced, I entered. “Hi there,” I said. “Can anyone help me with this thing?” I held up the Diamond Rio. A couple of people looked up. They knew instantly what I had. Their excitement was such that I felt if they could mug me they would.  Thom, one of the senior IT people, instantly stopped what he was doing and took control. Within minutes he plugged the device into his large computer and turned the Rio on. It sparked to life. Thom then called up a site with songs listed.

“Pick an artist,” he instructed.

“The Beatles,” I replied.

Within seconds about twenty Beatles songs were itemized on a plain white screen. “Watch this,” Thom said. He pressed a button and a Rio window  imaged on the other side of his computer screen. He dragged a couple of Beatle “files” across. After a number of seconds he unplugged the Rio and told me to put in the earplugs and listen. I did. Here was the Beatles singing “We Can Work It Out”. And there were three other songs by the band. I could not believe it. In mere seconds I had music. It was on this machine. And I could carry it with me. I was amazed. I had a revolution in the palm of my hand.

I knew I had a big story here. I set up interviews with record label and retail presidents. Many of them, like me, had heard about the technology but had not seen it in action. The label bosses were angry with the machine. The music was being transferred for free without their permission. They owned the copyright to the songs. The artists were not getting paid. The machine would not last they told me. One US based president, who I had met casually the day before the New York interview, greeted me cheerily. He asked what we were going to talk about in the interview. I pulled the Rio out of my pocket. “This”, I told him. He recoiled as if I was holding a deadly cobra. The next day he had the company lawyer at his side while he answered questions. One president of a popular retail chain told me that even if they worked out the legalities, downloads would not undermine the traditional music store. There was already an existing model, mail order, and that only accounted for a small portion (he quoted 20%) of retail sales. Music fans wanted to hang out in a store with knowledgeable store staff, he argued. People wanted to flick through the albums in the bin, he said.

Within a couple of months the music world was given a major jolt with the launch of Napster, the file sharing software, perfect for a device like the Rio. Once again the music industry cried foul, only this time louder and more aggressive. RIAA actually lost their first legal case against the RIO manufacturers. But eventually they won. Only about 200,000 Rio machines were sold. But the digital seed had been sown. The music industry went into melt down and needed a re-think. And that re-think came from outside the CD box. In 2001, after jumping all the legal hurdles, Apple launched the iPod and the business of music was never the same. The revolutionary forces, which had been sparked by Rio, were now about to take control.

Memories Of My First Promo Record


One of the prerequisites for obtaining an Arts degree in Canada was to have passed French 100 (or higher). Given my outrageously inept showing of schoolboy French back in England I was dreading the course, but if I wanted my degree I had to take it. Luckily, the University of British Columbia professor was a delightful and high-spirited young woman from Paris who informed us at the first class that she would make sure that we all passed the course. There was about fifteen of us from various backgrounds, and as it turned out, various ages. One of the individuals enrolled was a mature student – a mom twice our age who had decided to go back to school for the fun of it. Her name was Noelle Vogel. Over the coming weeks we all got to know each other. In fact, it was the friendliest course I was enrolled in. That was because our instructor made the lessons fun and interesting, including holding classes in different locations such as her house, or outside when the weather allowed, or at a French café. Noelle discovered that I was an aspiring DJ. One day she came to class with a gift for me. Her husband, in partnership with his brother, had just started up a record label and she wanted me to have a copy of their first release. I was thrilled. It was my first promo copy in my budding career. As it turns out the album became incredibly famous and a big-seller. It was Dreamboat Annie by Heart. Heart, originally from Seattle, were based at the time in Vancouver. They had developed into a top draw on the Vancouver cabaret circuit playing such clubs as the Birdcage and Starvin’ Marvins. The new label they were signed to was Mushroom Records. Dreamboat Annie would go on to become a million seller and crack Billboard’s top ten. The album was recorded at Can-Base Studios on West Sixth Avenue, which later worked out an arrangement with the label and was re-named Mushroom Studios. Years later, when I was managing the Vancouver electronic band Images In Vogue the group recorded hundreds of hours of music at Mushroom Studios. I have bought, collected, and been given many albums over the years, but Dreamboat Annie has a special place in my musical memory. Anytime I hear “Magic Man”, the lead-off single from the album, it takes me back to the sunny summer of 1975 and the carefree days of being a student on Canada’s West Coast trying to learn French.

Woodstock ’99

It was the last summer of the 20th century, of the millennium. No need to “party like it’s 1999”. It was 1999. There were the predictions of the end of the world by those that believed in the Mayan calendar. Computer technical experts warned about the Y2K error resulting in the potential for every computer around the world to shut down. For the organizers of Woodstock ’99 it was a chance to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the famed rock festival, and cash in on a music industry that was bursting at the warehouses with product selling in unprecedented numbers. (In May 1999 The Backstreet Boys released their album Millennium. It sold over a million copies in the first week alone.)

As for me, I was still working at MuchMusic/TheNewMusic but my contract was winding down. I had stepped into the role of co-managing the teenage rock band Serial Joe. The band, fronted by a handsome and confident Ryan Dennis, had an average age of 16. They were from Newmarket, Ontario, and had had a whirlwind rise to success while still an indie group. Ryan’s mum, Debbie Dennis, had acted as their manager. MuchMusic had supported them to the point of honouring them with the 1998 independent video of the year for their song “Skidrow”. Unable to secure a major label deal Debbie asked if I would help.

Things moved rapidly after that. The band signed with Aquarius Records (owned by the legendary Donald K. Donald) out of Montreal. The album Face Down was recorded and released quickly. Within six weeks it had achieved gold status – over 50,000 copies sold. It was extraordinary. Early in July Serial Joe secured a slot on the cross-Canada Edgefest tour. An amazing experience for teenagers who just a couple of weeks earlier were completing their Grade 10 at high school. I then received the phone call from Donald: would Serial Joe like to play the Emerging Artists stage at Woodstock ’99? Of course, was my answer. It would give the band the chance to showcase for American music executives, and, hopefully, secure a US release for the Face Down album.

Woodstock was nothing new to me. I had been part of the Much crew that covered Woodstock ’94 (which had been held at Saugerties, New York), and while there I had also journeyed down to Max Yasgur’s farm at Bethel, NY (the site of the original Woodstock) to document an impromptu and unofficial celebration by thousands of the original hippies. But Woodstock ’99 was nothing like either of those events. Peace and love were replaced by anger, sexism, and price gouging.

The festival was to take place July 22-25 at a de-commissioned US air force base at Rome, New York. Over two hundred thousand fans were expected. The line-up included Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, James Brown, Canadian favourites The Tragically Hip, and a hundred other artists. Aquarius had fronted tour support to allow the band to rent a tour bus and driver so we had somewhere to sleep. The band’s publicist, Nanci Malek, accompanied us as well. That Friday we crossed the border with no problems, journeyed to Rome, and made our way to the artist’s entrance of the massive site. About a mile from the gate the bus broke down with transmission trouble. There was no other choice but for all of us to alight from the bus and push it all the way to the compound. It must have been an amusing site for the security guards to see this up-and-coming young Canadian band (and their manager) pushing a massive bus into the parking lot. After the laughter subsided they instructed us to maneuver the bus to a space in back of one of the former aircraft hangars. This was where the emerging band stage was, and as we were to discover later that night, where the DJ rave parties, with their continual bass thump/thump/thumps, were staged.

While the driver made frantic phone calls to secure mechanical help for the immobile bus we all set off in different directions to check-out the music, the amenities, and the huge festival site. The temperature was sweltering – over 30 degrees Celsius. Being an old air force base there was no shelter from the burning sun. All the trees had been removed. The problem was compounded by the areas of tarmac which stored the heat. Fans took shelter where ever they could find shade. To buy anything patrons had to change money into “Woodstock” dollars. These ‘dollars” were the only thing accepted at the vendors. And prices were sky high. A bottle of water was $4(US), a small order of French fries $5(US).

One of the non-musical attractions was a dirt track course where fans could ride BMX bikes over a hilly obstacle course. Girls were encouraged to go topless. Young men lined the fences and shouted their appreciation, or disapproval depending on the female endowment, as young women rode over the bumps. This was symbolic of the whole event. “Show us your tits!” became the catch phrase of the young audience throughout the weekend.   

That Friday night we were able to enjoy some of the artists and the excitement of the event. I connected with my MuchMusic comrades, who were covering the festival. From one of the camera towers you could see the enormous crowd seething in the heat, jumping to the music, hollering, and growing increasingly restless. Up front was a sweaty and dangerous mosh pit. This was not the start of three days of joyous celebration, but a frat party that was beginning to lurch out of control.

Meanwhile, our bus driver had secured the services of a mechanic who could fix the transmission, but he had to drive in from Philadelphia. We had to be patient, and hope the man could find us (and gain entry) to this mini-city.

On the Saturday our focus was on the Serial Joe performance due to take place late afternoon. One of the only good things about the extreme heat was the fact that the attendance at the emerging stage was high, not because fans wanted to see future stars, but the hangar was one of the only place where there was an escape from the blistering sun. Serial Joe’s set went well and our job was done. We could relax, or so we thought.

While that was happening the mechanic had arrived from Philadelphia and begun work on the transmission. I stayed at the bus to make sure the job was completed. Band members took off to the two stages to enjoy the music and the atmosphere. Every now and then each would appear with their reports on the music and the crowd. We could feel the unrest growing.

By late evening the mechanic had fixed the problem, but would not put in the final piece until we paid him $2,000 cash. He would not accept credit cards. That was a problem. Publicist Nanci Malek saved the day by going to the ATM machine and withdrew that amount in $20 bills. Unfortunately, it was the last money in the machine which immediately shut down after the transaction much to the annoyance of the long line up of people waiting to get cash. We paid the mechanic who then attached the final piece to the transmission. The driver started the bus and tested that everything worked ok. It was, much to my relief.

But while all that was going on Limp Bizkit had taken the stage. The result was pandemonium. MuchMusic abandoned their camera tower for fear of it being toppled. Violence started to erupt. I could see small fires being started.  There was danger in the air. My job was now to get the band out of their safely. We were not going to hang around. But trying to track each one of them down was a problem. Eventually, they all returned to the bus later that night. I told them that we were leaving, much to their disappointment.

As the bus pulled out of the gates we could see yellow flames starting to lick the black sky. All hell would break loose the following day.

Fool For The Falls (final chapter)

A week later Damien returned to Vancouver energized and inspired to finish the new story. It took him a year to almost complete the manuscript. During that time he kept Jolene updated on the novel’s progress. One thing that eluded him was the ending to the tale. Damien’s agent suggested that he return to Niagara Falls in the hope that he would find the missing part. He texted Jolene to let her know he was arriving and suggested she meet him in the coming days.

The following week she arrived at the apartment on River Road. “How could you?” Jolene was visibly upset when he walked into his living room.

    “What?”

    “You stole my words.” She was on the verge of tears.

    Shit, Damien thought, she has read the manuscript.

Damien had failed to secure the manuscript. It was open on the laptop screen atop the desk by the window. What part had she read? “They are just rough ideas. I’ll change them. You know how it is,” he replied. “Every writer needs a starting point. And then the story finds its own life.” Jolene just looked at him accusingly as he continued to verbally wiggle his way out of the dilemma. “You inspire me. Your stories inspire me. I wasn’t attempting to steal them. I just wanted to modernize the maid of the mist legend.”

     “Does this sound like you or me?” she shouted, and then began to read a page:

Mighty boulders deposited aimlessly by forces past, now her silent sentinels along this ancient path. Humming birds hold still, then dart away, to whisper in the ears of waiting bouquets. She feels the longing, the excitement, unbridled like a warm October eve. Yes, I am yours, she thought.  Love waits patiently beside her hidden door. “Welcome home,” she will say to me, even though I’ve never been here before.

     “Those words come from one of my poems. ”

     “Yes, it’s true I read the poems. And I loved the idea of modernizing the maid of the mist legend .Yes, I borrowed the idea. I put some of the words into a story, but…”

     “It’s like you raped me just like those other bastards. You opened me up and took what was inside of me.” Jolene was in tears. “You took my story.”

     He went to comfort her, but she shrugged him off. She slammed the front door on the way out. He guessed they were not going hiking that day.

***************

Damien did not try to contact Jolene for many days. The excitement of now knowing how the story would end eclipsed any other thoughts or actions. He was driven to complete the work. Two weeks later he typed the final words and was elated by the sense of accomplishment. The story worked. But before he returned to Vancouver he wanted to make amends with Jolene. An exchange of texts occurred. She was willing to see him at Kerry’s house on the Niagara Parkway. It was snowing and he drove the rented car slowly along the parkway, past Chippawa until he located the beautiful sprawling house by the river.

The speech he had prepared was completely forgotten when he entered Kerry’s house. There were the two women, looking very unwelcoming, the cat, but this time there was also a small baby, about a year old, in a crib by their side. Damien was caught off guard.

“Is that your baby?” he asked Jolene.

“That’s Amethyst. She’s our daughter,” replied Jolene referring to her and Kerry.

Damien was quickly doing some mental math. Could the child have been the result of that time at the cottage?But surely that was a hallucination, he told himself.

“Could that be my daughter?” he asked sheepishly.

“We found an appropriate sperm donor,” Kerry said sharply. “Now what did you want to say before you leave.”

“I just wanted to say that I meant no harm. Your stories, your magic, inspired me and I could not stop myself writing the story. I have dedicated the book to you, Jolene. Its the least I could do.”

He left a hard copy of the manuscript on a coffee table.

Before Damien left their company he went over to the crib to see the baby. He had that nagging feeling that the women were not telling the truth. They could see that he had his doubts. After awkward goodbyes he let himself out. It was the last time the women would see Damien. Without saying a word, Kerry walked to the front door and opened it a little. Kali the cat silently padded out to the winter scene.

************

FAMOUS DJ & AUTHOR DROWNS

      A Vancouver resident drowned at Niagara Falls, Ontario yesterday. It appears he fell in the water upstream on the Niagara Parkway and was swept over the famous waterfall. His body was recovered at the whirlpool area known as the Devil’s Hole.  The man has been identified as Damien Jude, a successful novelist and music disc jockey. Police believe it was a case of accidental drowning. Animal tracks in the snow suggest that a deer, or a coyote, or even a big cat startled the individual and he fell in the quickly moving freezing water.  

     Jude was named as a person of interest in the death three years ago of Elizabeth Mayring, also from Vancouver. His manger was Eddie Zolan, a convicted felon and well-known drug trafficker.

     Jude was also an aspiring writer. He penned the successful novel “Death at the Disco” which was based on Mayring’s murder. A manuscript entitled “A Fool for the Falls” was found in his short-term rented apartment on River Road. Its dedication reads: “For Jolene, she smiled at me across the counter, and inspired my imagination.” If anyone has any information, or witnessed anything suspicious, they are asked to contact Niagara Falls police.

     Damien Jude was just 26 years of age. He was due to perform at next year’s Coachella music festival.

Fool For The Falls (part 4)

Over the next couple of months Damien and Jolene became close. They exchanged stories and secrets. One day, while walking beside the river, they dared each other to reveal something that they had never told anyone else. She told him how she identified with the maid of the mist legend of Niagara Falls; how a young maiden had given herself to the god of thunder but had returned to save her people when they were threatened with an evil serpent. Damien did not understand the connection so Jolene explained. The thunder was the feelings she hid inside. By surrendering to her natural self she become empowered. Denial was an evil thing. Truth, as they say, sets you free, but at a cost.

“Ok. Your turn,” she said.

Damien was not going to tell her that he had read her journal and had used it for inspiration for his new novel. That would ruin the relationship. Instead he told her about Death at the Disco. “Promise you won’t mention this to anyone?”

“Of course,” she replied.

“I was there the night that girl was killed,” he told her sheepishly. Jolene looked at him shocked. “Eddie Zolan, EZ the pimp as I called him in the book, had invited me back to his penthouse after the club closed. I had no idea that Elizabeth would be there. We were high and drunk. Things got out of hand. He shot her.”

“My god. Why didn’t you go to the police?”

“Because I would have been killed. For the price of my silence he and Petey from Luna Dreams got me lucrative DJ gigs. They even got me Coachella. Eventually, I wanted out of music. So I used the memory as the basis for the novel. I had no idea the book would become so successful. It was too late to suddenly come clean with the real story. It haunts me.”

They continued their walk in silence. The Falls low rumble in the distance like churning thoughts.

*******************

   “Kerry has invited us out to her cottage this weekend. Can you go?” It was Jolene calling him on the phone. She sounded excited. “It’s the Samhain.”

    “What’s that?” he asked

    “It’s like Halloween, but far more spiritual. It’s special for Wiccans. It’s also the last get-together at the lake before she closes the cottage for winter.”

   “Sure, love to. Who else is going?”

    “Just us and Kerry. You’ll love it. We can take my car.  No need to bring anything. I’ll pick you up Saturday morning. Oh, bring your trunks. It’s a ritual that we bathe in the lake. Part of the ceremony,” she added.

    “Ceremony. What ceremony?”

    “You’ll see.”

That Saturday Jolene was animated with excitement. She was all smiles. That smile that had so entranced him the first time they met.

    “I see you brought your beer,” she laughed as Damien stowed the case of twelve bottles of local ale on the floor of the back seat.

    “Well, I had to make sure I wouldn’t go thirsty up at the lake.”

    “You might not need it. Kerry’s got something stronger for you.” Jolene smiled knowingly.

    “Oh yeah. What’s that? Moonshine?” he joked.

    “You’ll see.”

    They made small talk as they journeyed into the heart of the Niagara region. Jolene asked how his new novel was coming and he told her it was progressing nicely. He did not tell her that it was her writings that had inspired him. He asked about her photography, and if she was still happy serving at the diner. She shrugged her shoulders.

    A short time later they arrived at Kerry’s cottage. It was beautiful, isolated and right by the lake.

    “Glad you could make it, Damien.” Kerry was working in a large vegetable. She removed her working glove and greeted him with a firm handshake. She was wearing outdoor clothes that would not be out of place in Vancouver: a red and black lumberjack shirt, jeans and heavy boots. She looked beautiful in an earthly way. Her long, slightly gray/brown hair had been braided, with the braids running down both sides of her front shoulders giving her a Viking look. She wore no make-up.

     “And who’s that?”  Damien motioned to a large scarecrow dressed in an old black jacket with a crown of flowers on a straw head spiked at the end of the garden. He had two small potatoes for eyes, a carrot for a nose, and his mouth was charcoal black. His outstretched arms were stuffed with straw that peeked out of the bottom of the sleeves like tiny fingers. “I bet he keeps more than the ravens away,” he joked. Kerry smiled. Then, as if wanting to be introduced, a large black cat sauntered over and rubbed its back on Kerry’s leg. Damien looked down at the creature.

    “This is Kali. My beloved companion,” said the professor.

    Damien bent down and petted her. She was beautiful with big yellow eyes. Kali purred with the attention.

    “Unique name. What does it mean?”

    “She’s the goddess of creation, and destruction. She can make the unexpected happen. She can talk to animals and nature.”

    “Oh, sounds ominous,” he replied.

    “Bring your stuff in the house and get settled,” Kerry said. “Jolene can show you around. She’s been here enough. I’ll prepare the food.”

Jolene and Damien walked in the woods, and canoed on the lake, breathing in the clean air. They were exhausted by the time they returned. There was a fine spread of food laid out on the linen cloth that adorned the picnic table outside the cottage: corn, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, peas, lettuce, and berries.  A fire crackled in a stone circled pit. Every now and then it sizzled and hissed.

    “Wow.  What a feast!” he declared.

    “Well you need a feast to celebrate Samhain. And a fire. Plus good friends.”

    “Do you want one of your beers, Damien?” asked Jolene as she started to make her way into the cottage.

    “Yes, thanks.”

    While Jolene was away Kerry told him about the importance of Samhain for Wiccans. It’s the time when the distance between the spirit world and the earthly world is at its thinnest, Kerry explained. The distance is so slight, Kerry continued, that the dead can communicate with the living. It’s a time of great magic, she said.

    “Everyone likes magic. I’d like to write about it someday.”

    “You can’t write about true magic. To break silence is to break the spell. And the spirit might come back and do you harm.” She was serious.

     Damien just nodded with a slight smile. “This butternut squash and apple casserole is delicious. Now that’s magic,” he joked

    Jolene returned with cold beer and an elaborate tea pot.

    “Once a server always a server,” she remarked. Damien thanked her for the beer and watched as she poured a strange coloured tea into mugs for both her and Kerry. “What’s that?”

    “Just an herbal tea,” answered Kerry before Jolene had a chance to say anything.

    Twilight came and they sat around the fire chatting away. The sun started to sink into the lake and the sky was a glorious picture of colours running into each other like wet paint. Damien had an awareness of being totally relaxed. A feeling he had almost forgotten. This was a moment of sheer pleasure: the fire, the lake, the company, the food, the conversation, the breeze carrying golden leaves gently to the ground. The three beers he had drunk also helped. The women were enjoying themselves as well. They were sitting close together on the log on the other side of the fire.

    Jolene jumped up. “Come on. Time to go in the lake,” she shouted.

    “What! It’s too cold,” he replied.

    “Oh, you’ve got to do it, Damien. We all do. It’s a ritual.”

    “Something to do with Samhain,” he said unenthusiastically.

    “Nope. It’s the last time this year we get to swim. It’s just something we do each year. It’s become part of our cottage tradition.”

    “Ok, I’ll go and get my trunks.”

    “No need for trunks, silly. Come on,” and with that Jolene started to take off all her clothes. There in the fading light and the glow of the fire was a woman who he had been longing to get into bed with was now beautifully naked. But what was even more startling was a huge tattoo on her back similar to the one on the top of her arm. He didn’t want to stare, but Kerry could see him looking. She knew what he was thinking. Jolene ran into the lake, and with a shriek of joy dived into the water.

    “I’ll go get some towels, and join you in a second,” and with that Kerry took off to the cottage.  

    Damien quickly stripped and joined Jolene. The water was cold, but he became used to it after a few minutes. They playfully splashed water at each other, and swam a couple of strokes. Kerry returned with the towels, left them on the log, and by the light of the fire disrobed.  Like a Norse woman entering a fjord, with her big boned body and the long plaits falling to meet her large breasts, gently brushing her erect nipples, Kerry stepped in the water regally. As the water encircled her feet and ankles she let out a light “bbrrr”, and then majestically walked towards Jolene and Damien until the water was up to her chest.  When she was a few feet from them she sank beneath the surface and after a few seconds arose with a loud shriek. They splashed and played in the water till complete darkness surrounded them.

     As they all toweled off, and changed back into their clothes, the fire created shadows that danced around them.

    “That was fun,” Damien said. “I feel cleansed.”

    “Agreed,” said Jolene.

    “Ok, it’s time to burn the man.” Kerry said.

    “What?” he responded sheepishly.

    “Not you,” laughed Jolene, “the man that rules the garden,” referring to the scarecrow.

    “Come help me Damien.” Kerry stood up, ignited a wooden torch that she had prepared with straw and rags bound at one end, and walked to her vegetable patch, the flames lighting the way.  They followed her to the stuffed man. Kerry instructed Damien to pull the scarecrow up and carry him to the fire. He performed the task easily. On Kerry’s instructions Damien laid him across the stones and immediately the flames began to consume the straw and then the clothes. As the effigy began to burn bright Kerry took a poker and pushed him in the belly and he collapsed inward. Damien and Jolene watched entranced.

     The two women resumed their spot on the log. Damien located his beer that he had left before the swim and took a sip.

    “Would you like to have something stronger, Damien?” Kerry asked.

    “What did you have in mind?”

    “Something that will cleanse you as well. It may even open up your creativity.”

    “What you got in mind? Acid? I did my bit years ago.” He hesitated, then added, “ but I’m a rock’n’roll guy… game if you are.”

    “Not Acid.”

    “Ayahuasca,” explained Jolene.

    “What’s that?” Damien was just about to find out

“Did you ever read Sting’s autobiography?” Kerry asked him.

    “No, but I staged some benefit concerts in Vancouver to raise funds to save the Rainforest. Just local bands, but we raised 10K. Sting even sent us a video thank you message. We played it at the show.”

     Kerry continued: “His autobiography starts off with a mention of when he was in Brazil to save the rainforests and did Ayahuasca. He writes about how the experience changed him. He called it a positive death journey, if that’s not self-contradictory. But that’s not a bad description.”

     “That strong, eh?”   

    “It’s not to be taken lightly,” Jolene said sternly, “but it will change your life. I guarantee it.”

    “What is it?”

    “It’s a combination of South American plants and vines. No synthetic chemicals.”

    “Are you going to do it with me?” I asked.

    “I will,” said Jolene, “but not Kerry.”

    “I will act as your guide,” Kerry sounding very much like the professor she was.

    “Ok bring it on,” Damien said sounding gung-ho.

     Jolene went up to the cottage. While she was away Kerry stood up, went to the shed that was close by and, in the light that came from the flames, returned with two plastic buckets. She handed one to him.

    “What’s this for,” he asked.

    “You’ll need it. It will be your best friend. I promise you.”

    “Don’t worry is just a natural reaction to the tea,” said Jolene who had returned with the elaborate tea pot and two mugs. She offered one mug to Damien. He took it and she poured a brown liquid. He held the offering ominously. She then poured a mug for herself, and resumed her place on the other side of the fire, and said a toast.

     “To the liquid of life and the woman who is its receptacle,” and with that she drunk her tea.

     What the hell, Damien thought, and consumed his as well.

     The vomiting started soon thereafter. He was thankful for the bucket. But then things began to change. One second Damien was standing up looking at the fire, the next moment he was on the ground. It felt as if his head was just there by itself. Body muscles had collapsed beneath him, but it did not produce panic. Kerry asked how he was doing. Damien was calm and told her what was going on in his head. Jolene said she would join him in that place where ever that place was. Thoughts flickered like broken radio messages that he could not verbalize. He realized what madness was. Your inner self knows and understands things, but what comes out of your mouth is gibberish. There was no way of explaining the things he saw or ideas that ran through his brain. He wanted the ride to stop, but this was a train he could not alight from. And then amidst the glorious world of nature the experience righted itself. They walked around the dark woods. They wandered for a time but he knew not how long. Jolene left him sitting in the darkness. Then Kali the cat appeared. She transformed into a jaguar and spoke to Damien. They were not reassuring words. It was as if it was Elizabeth Mayring, the murdered girl from the disco, was speaking. She made him feel guilty. “Why did you not save me?” she asked. He was full of remorse and began crying. “What can I do?” he asked the cat.

He was not sure what happened next but remembered being back in the cottage. He saw Kerry and Jolene making love in the bedroom. The women were naked. But then Kerry became him. He was half woman, half man, with breasts and a penis. The seeds of creation were injected into the womb of the universe. The seeds became stars sprayed across the heavens. The colourful tattoo on Jolene’s back swirled like northern lights around the earthbound naked figures. He then made it to the couch and followed a jungle path that led to the end of the planet, as black as guilt. There he saw the jaguar again and it told him to go back. And he did.

Fool For The Falls (part 3)

The following day Damien spoke to creative writing students in Professor Kerry Abel’s class at Brock University. Jolene accompanied him.

    “Thanks for doing this,” said Professor Abel as the three of them socialized over drinks later in the student pub. Damien was enjoying another one of the local craft beers. “They loved it, particularly the use of DJ culture as a backdrop. They can relate. They all want to be DJ’s it seems if they can’t be writers.”

     “My pleasure,” was his response. “I’m here for the next three months, so if you need me to come out again let me know.”    

     “Oh, so we should get together again. I have a cottage by the lake. You should visit while summer is still with us. It’s beautiful. The water is warm and clear. And the cottage is surrounded by woods. Very private. It may even inspire your writing.”

     “It’s beautiful,” added Jolene. “You’d love it. It’s also said to be haunted.”

     “Is that what inspired your writing? The forest and the lake?” he asked the professor. Damien had done his homework and googled Ms. Abel’s biography before he came out to campus. He discovered that she had written three works of fiction that incorporated a combination of feminism, strange happenings, people missing, white witches, and such paranormal things as Mothman. She had even traveled down to Brazil and spent time with a Shaman.

     “You will find that if you stay in this region long enough the land has a way of communicating with you. It’s as if the water sings and the trees whisper. It’s around us all the time.” Professor Abel commented. “You just have to pick up on the signals. It makes for great story telling, and the story gives that spirit form.”

    “That’s what Jolene said,” Damien replied skeptically as he sipped beer.   

     She could see he was not a believer. “There’s magic in creativity,” she said. “If you think you see something and it affects change, then it existed. You may be the only one that “saw” it, but that doesn’t matter. Your consciousness gave it form.”

     “Give me some examples.”

     “Do you know the story of Ernest Shackleton and his “special friend” that helped him across the mountains of Georgia Island?”

     “The Antarctic explorer? What happened?”

     “In his book he says that there was another person that accompanied him and his two men across the mountains and guided them to rescue. The fourth man vanished once they were safe.”

     “Come on, that’s just a hallucination experienced by someone under duress.”

     “How about the former music director suffering from extreme dementia, but hears music in his prison of silence. He closes his eyes, conducts the orchestra, and is able to happily pass the time eliminating his anxiety of knowing nothing. No one else hears that music.”

     “I think I need to smoke a joint to understand that,” Damien chuckled. He changed the subject and thanked the professor for the invite to the cottage. “Time for me to head back.” He told her that there was more than a good chance that he would take her up on her kind offer and return for another visit. “I’ll make sure I bring spirits…the liquid kind,” he joked. Damien stood up. “Coming back with me Jolene?” He had a sense that she may stay with the professor.

    “Leave with who you came with,” she said lightheartedly and stood up as well. Damien shook hands with Kerry and began his exit out of the lounge. He turned around to witness Jolene give the professor more than a casual kiss and hug.

 “I see that you and Kerry are more than just friends,” Damien remarked as they drove back to Niagara Falls.

    “She was my first lover. She taught me so much…and more than just creative writing,” Jolene said with a half-laugh. “We are no longer an item, but we get together every now and then. I’ve got a lot to thank her for. One thing I’ve learnt more than anything – put something out there to the Universe and it will come back at you. Good or bad. I truly believe that.”

    By the time they arrived at Jolene’s home they had covered all kinds of subjects. It was a crash course in getting to know someone. And he liked what he learned.

     Jolene began to spend more time with Damien. They explored the countryside, attended concerts; they even rented a boat and sailed around Lake Ontario. Everywhere they went Jolene took photos. She posted them on her blog. Damien knew they were definitely growing closer, but other than walking arm in arm, and the goodbye hugs, there was no physical contact. She tried to persuade Damien to attend her yoga classes, but the only “dog” he was going to participate in was “hair of the dog.” She laughed beautifully when he made that joke. That beguiling smile entranced him, as did her life.  

     A few days later, while viewing Jolene’s web site, admiring her photos of their recent days out, he read some of her first blog entries going back years; ones that he had not seen before. They were very personal, early writings that were naked and innocent. He felt like a voyeur, but rationalized that thought by reminding himself the entries were public. There was one particular story entitled The Princess of the Lake.  Jolene called it a fiction, but Damien was sure it was about her and Kerry. Two women on a spiritual retreat in the woods decide to take magic mushrooms and end up calling on the spirits that inhabited the rocks, the trees, and the water.  It sounded real.  He read on:

    “How you feeling?” she asked me.

    “Great”

   “Who said that?” she asked.

   “What?” I didn’t understand what she asked. I said that. No, I didn’t. Another voice said that, I reasoned. There was another “voice” on top of my “voice”; friendly but working on a different plane. I suddenly realized I had got “off”. I found that hilarious. Here I had been waiting for the effects to arrive, as if I was someone sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of the cabin waiting for a long lost friend to come down the drive way, when in fact “the friend” had been sitting by my side the whole time and I was oblivious to their presence.

    I was in hysterics by this sudden insight. Tears of joy were streaming down my face. I was rolling around the cottage porch laughing my head off.  She now started to ask me a series of questions, forever the teacher, about my thought process. I gained some form of composure and enthusiastically gave her answers. Whether or not they made any sense I have no idea. But the one thing I do remember was that I looked at the woods and the lake, the stones and the earth, the sky and the clouds, and noticed all the individual groups of life all performing in their own individual circles. They were systems within systems; cogs of life within a large complex. Worlds within worlds. This was the spirit at work.  And then the Princess revealed herself to me as she rose out of water.

This was enough to kick-start his imagination and he wrote a thousand words that morning. He now had direction and inspiration. He felt pleased with himself when he quit writing at noon. That deserved a beer and maybe a joint if he could find one. He headed out to a local bar.

Fool For The Falls (part 2)

“I saw you that night,” King Spin shouted at the pimp. “You were smacking her around. Did you kill her?”

     “Kid, you should learn to keep your nose out of other people’s business,” EZ the pimp sneered. “You know nothing, see?”

     “She told me what happened.”

     “What the fuck are you talking about? She was with me that whole time from when you saw us until I put a bullet in her head. She couldn’t have told you anything.”

     “You wouldn’t understand. She told me in a dream.”

     “You’re crazy.”

And that’s when our hero falls into the murderous world of Death at the Disco,” Jude concluded reading from his novel. The crowd in the La Marsh room at the library applauded enthusiastically. There were more people in attendance than had turned up at the bookshop that morning. They were predominantly young with body piercing, tattoos, and T-shirts emblazoned with names of various musical heroes and maxims: from David Bowie to Calvin Harris to pithy messages such as “Art Is A Weapon”. He looked over the fresh young faces. An even split between male and female. And there at the back of the room, with that wonderful smile, was Jolene standing alone and off to the side. He was thrilled. She made a gesture that she would wait while he did the autograph thing. He nodded back that he understood, and made a theatrical move as if  looking at his wristwatch and then unfurled his fist and spread out his fingers three times to let her know he would be about fifteen minutes. She nodded back and gestured that she would be in the library stacks. She disappeared from view like a magician’s assistant.

     “I had no idea you were Damien Jude the writer,” Jolene said as they sat in the side room at Taps, one of the  bars on Queen Street. “I loved Death at the Disco. I read it this past summer at the cottage.”

    “Thanks. It’s not like I go around advertising the fact.” He sipped his beer, brewed by the establishment, and ordered a mushroom burger. Jolene ordered herbal tea and a salad. She was a vegan. Old Motown favorites played in the background.

    “What brings you to the Falls?” she asked as she sipped her warm drink.

    He explained that he was on a retreat trying to write his next novel, even though he had not written a word yet. “I read your blog, and saw your photos. You’re quite the talent,” he added.

    “Thanks. I hope one day I can make some money and travel the world.”

    She sat opposite him, all smiles, all confident energy beaming brightly, enthusiastically. He asked about the large tattoo on the top of her arm. She pulled up the sleeve of her tight white T-shirt and turned her shoulder towards him.

       The elaborate image was impressive; an image of a cat woman..top half female, bottom half feline.It was beautifully colored by reds, yellows, and browns. “Can I touch it,” he asked.

    “Go ahead.”

     Damien reached across the table and lightly ran the tips of his fingers across the design. Her skin was beautifully soft.

    “You are going to Brock University tomorrow to meet up with some creative writing students,” she said more as a statement than a question.

    “How’d you know that?” he answered, pulling the hand away quickly. “Did you read my mind?” he asked only half-jokingly.

    “Of course; I used my witch powers.” She laughed. “No, Kerry Abel, Professor Abel, told me. Kerry and I are good friends. That’s why I came tonight. Just to check you out.”

    “Small world.” Damien thought nothing more of this unusual coincidence, and just chalked it down to another one of the strange synchronicities that had been intersecting with his life of late.

    An hour went by effortlessly: drinking, talking about writing, and music. He regaled her with stories of his many rock’n’roll adventures and mishaps. She, in turn, talked about her young life guided by a single mother, female professors, and lesbian lovers.

    “I’ve had some boyfriends,” she said, “but its women whom I fall in love with,” she added frankly. Jolene then talked about the city: the river, the famous waterfall, and the layers of history that blanketed the area. She explained that it all had a spiritual force.

     “Why’s that?” questioned Damien.

     “It’s the environment, the ghosts, and the river. The more time you spend with the river, the more it will change you. There’s something magical here. It affects people. You wait. It will change you.”

     “I don’t believe in ghosts,” Damien countered.

     She asked if he knew about the Battle of Lundy Lane. No, he answered.

     “Right,” she said, “finish your beer. I’m taking you to the battleground. It’s just down the road.”

     Outside the bar she immediately put her arm in his as they walked to her car. It wasn’t flirtatious, just comforting in an old-fashioned manner. Jolene drove down deserted Victoria Avenue, with its numerous pawn shops, and up Ferry Street still busy with tourists frequenting the many restaurants. At the top of the hill she parked the car on a side street. A full moon lighted their way as they wandered around the battleground. Damien discovered, via the information plaques, how this area, now a preserved garden, had been a decisive moment in the war of 1812. Eight hundred troops from both sides had died on this hilltop. He had not heard of it before.

    “No ghosts here,” Damien remarked. “In fact, it’s calm and beautiful.”

   “Let’s cross the street. The soldier’s graveyard is opposite,” she replied.

   The area was dark, just a few lights along the path between the gravestones. It was eerie and sad. It was peaceful and still except for the muffled roar of the Falls in the distance. The atmosphere made him shiver. Jolene noticed his reaction and smiled.

     “Come on. Time to go,” she said.

     As they approached the vehicle he reminded her that he had to go out to the University tomorrow night to address the creative writing students.              

    “Do you want to come with me? I’ve booked a car with Enterprise. I can pick you up at 7.30. You can show me around campus.”

    “Love to.”

    They drove through the tourist area, abuzz with evening excitement; then they made their way down to the quiet of River Road; the full moon a bright witness in the evening sky. She parked the car outside his apartment and turned off the engine. They chatted and exchanged phone numbers.

    “Excellent,” he said.

    “Why don’t you sit with me awhile?”

    He had to say “no”. The beer and burger sat delicately in his stomach. He joked that it was past his bedtime. They hugged, and said goodnight.  When he closed the passenger door Jolene drove off quickly, almost like she was annoyed.

     But he had no time to linger. He marched off quickly down the path hoping he did not have to break into a sprint to answer Nature’s call. The full moon tugged at more than the river that night.

A Fool For The Falls

THE PRESENT

“I told him the longer you stay by the river the more it will change you. He didn’t believe me.”

     The two Niagara Falls detectives stared at their female suspect with a disbelieving look.

     “You’re telling us that the river had something to do with his death and you didn’t?”

     “Exactly. Read his manuscript. You guys have it. It will tell you all you need to know. Can I go home to my baby now?”

     “Shortly.”

Without saying another word the detectives gathered up loose papers and placed them back in their manila folder. They left the interrogation room, and retreated to the room behind the two-way mirror to compare thoughts and watch their suspect.

     Jolene arose from the wooden chair and sat cross-legged on the floor. She closed her eyes. Her hands relaxed casually on her lap, and then she began to whisper words the detectives, listening behind the mirror, could not understand.

THE PAST

A horrifying scream from below the DJ booth cut through the thumping bass of the music. When King Spin heard the commotion below him he interrupted his search for the next record, and opened the bare plywood trapdoor at his feet. Crouching on his hands and knees he peered into the square hole. Out of the ceiling his head popped like an upside down jack-in-a-box. There in the empty stairwell, usually only used as an avenue to a  fire escape door, and to gain entry to the ladder that led up to the music booth, he saw a man and a woman fighting. She was young, in a black mini-dress, stilettos, and heavy make-up. King Spin recognized her as Candi – one of the regular working girls from Davie Street that frequented the club after midnight. He had actually been at a party once where she performed a striptease for the drunken crowd. But he had never really spoken to her. Candi looked at DJ quickly. There was horror in her eyes. Her adversary, a short, stocky man, appeared to be her pimp. He had his right arm in a white plaster cast and a sling, but that did not stop him from smacking the girl across the face with his left hand. She screamed again.

    “What the fuck’s going on?” King Spin shouted above the music.

   “None of your fucking business,” the man shouted back. “Petey knows all about it.”

    Petey was the owner of Luna Dreams and he had more than his fair share of shady acquaintances. King Spin had met a few of them after hours while having the allowed “one staff drink”. DJ retreated back into the music booth, slammed the trapdoor shut, and slid his milk crate of vinyl records over the opening. It wouldn’t stop anyone coming in but it gave him a sense of security. He brushed the dust from the legs of his stylish pants and returned to more important things, the next song and mixing it in for the energetic crowd on the packed dance floor. High up in the club ceiling he was able to look down and see the many faces of the dancers amid the coloured, flashing lights. Whenever he did a faulty mix some of them would look up in criticism of his skills. A few of them looked up now as he brought in the new tune. The mix was not smooth. King Spin indeed, some of them must have been thinking. Yes, he thought to himself, it could have been better, but it was decent enough. In his mind he cursed the pimp, not so much for beating on the girl, but for ruining his concentration and ultimately the mix, and his reputation. But it was soon forgotten, there were hundreds of other tunes and mixes that evening; many of them superb. There were no other incidents that night and DJ played through till 2 a.m. and closing time.

     When he awoke the following afternoon he headed down to Robson Street for his usual cappuccino and fresh baked chocolate croissant at Mimi’s coffee bar. It was a ritual he performed almost every day. It gave him a chance to erase the fog in his head that occurred after another night of amplified music and more than a few “free drinks”. He picked up a well-worn copy of that day’s Vancouver Sun that had been read by many at Mimi’s that morning. As he ate his light breakfast and sipped his coffee he scanned the pages and the headlines. His eyes fell on one in particular. BODY DUMPED AT JERICHO BEACH. Beneath the bold words was a picture of the girl he knew as Candi. Quickly, he read the story. Her real name was Elizabeth Mayring. She had been shot in the head, execution style. Details were scarce but the story mentioned that there was a distinctive tattoo of an elongated panther, in the style of 1970s adult movies, on her left breast. If anyone had any information about the woman the public was urged to contact Vancouver police.

     As he stared out the large window, oblivious to the many fashionable shoppers passing by on Robson Street, he thought about last night. He thought about the situation. He had no idea what to do. But he knew this was trouble.

     Damien Jude looked up from the book he was reading aloud and addressed the small audience in front of him. “That’s all folks. Thanks for coming.” The five people gave him polite applause. “If you want to find out what happened next please pick up a copy of Death at the Disco. I’d be happy to autograph it for you.” 

     He took his place in an old wooden chair behind the signing table. The owner of the Mermaid book shop, a friendly woman who had dedicated her senior years to running this small literary enterprise on Queen Street, thanked the author for coming to Niagara Falls. She placed half-a-dozen copies of Death at the Disco on the table. Three were purchased and signed. He thanked the customers, and if they wanted to hear him read again he would be at the Victoria Avenue public library that night.

      Jude was in this tourist city on a writing retreat. Well, that’s what he told himself and those that asked. It was, in fact, a retreat in a literal sense. The glare of failure burnt so painfully he had to leave Vancouver. He chose Niagara Falls only because he could think of nowhere more romantic in Canada; and he was missing romance in his life. He knew nothing about the city at all except that the DJ Deadmau5 was originally from here. And that Marilyn Monroe had starred in a movie about the famous cataract. He also knew that, being a border town, all kinds of shenanigans occurred. Damien knew more than a little about shenanigans.

     When his publicist told him she had organized a book reading in downtown Niagara Falls he automatically assumed it would be bustling with people – a throng of tourists waiting to be entertained, keen to buy things, such as his book. He was shocked to discover that downtown was in fact the old part of the city, and was now nearly deserted. Yes, there were shops and bars but they were barely hanging on to retail life. The area was a casualty of modern times. The casinos and the midway attraction of Clifton Hill on the other side of town had sucked the energy, and the money, out of the area now dubbed “the Q district”. Thousands of tourists remained at the other end of the city, corralled as if by an invisible fence. Few out-of-towners rarely discovered the old town. But it had character. Damien discovered comic book shops that not only sold comics but, of all things, old cassette tapes, 8-tracks, and Atari games. It was as if pop culture artifacts came here to die.  Queen Street also had a number of bars booking local musicians. Some of them selling local craft beers – Damien’s other great love after music. 

      It was almost one o’clock in the afternoon and he was hungry. Not a joint had been smoked or a beer consumed in a couple of days. But the good stuff could wait. Food was the priority. He left the Mermaid and wandered down to River Road in search of a big breakfast.  The neon sign, Daredevil Diner, caught his attention and he entered the establishment. While he waited to be served he noticed photos and framed press cuttings mounted on the wall of the diner.  All the images and stories concerned individuals who had ventured in all manner of contraptions over the famous waterfall. Some were successful. Some were not. He was fascinated. What must it be like to go over the edge, he thought.

     “Are you in a band?” he asked as the waitress refilled his black coffee.

     “Me? In a band? I wish,” she replied from the other side of the small laminated counter. She smiled. Damien smiled back. There was something about that smile that was special. Yes, it was happy and full of life. But it was more than that. What band was it, he thought, that sung “If you smile at me/I will understand?”

     “But you are an artist of some sort,” he replied, more as a question than a statement, keen to open up a conversation. For the last hour, as he devoured his over-sized portion of French toast, home fries, bacon and eggs, he had tried not to stare at this woman, even though she had walked back and forth in front of him in the counter alley. Her lithe body, with a strange colorful tattoo that adorned the upper-half of her muscular arms, was more than distracting. And he noted that that smile always shone bright as she communicated with the handful of customers.

    “Well, I am a photographer,” she answered.

    “There, I was right,” relieved that he had not made too much of a fool of myself. “What do you photograph? Mad men in barrels going over the Falls like these guys?” he said light heartedly making reference to the photos on the wall.

    “Hey, it would be nice to capture something so spectacular, but no.” She told him about her work and mentioned her web site. “Check it out,” she added.

    Seconds later she returned with the bill. On the paper slip, beside the server line, was the name: Jolene.

    “This you?” he asked.

    “Yes,” she said proudly.

    “See, I knew there was music in you,” he joked making reference to the Dolly Parton song.

    “Yes,” Jolene added reluctantly, as if she had mentioned this personal trivia a million times before, “my mom loved that tune. That’s how I got my name.” She smiled once again.

     He left twenty dollars, more than enough, said goodbye, and walked out the front door.  A feeling of a missed opportunity nagged at him.

     Damien wandered downhill in the warm August sunshine. The view of the Niagara River, with the Falls in the distance, was magnificent. Turkey buzzards and seagulls circled on the wind in the gorge. Shards of sunlight bounced off the water as it travelled from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.  By the time he reached Clifton Hill he was in a crowd of tourists, all of them walking towards the Horseshoe Falls another ten minutes away.  He joined the stream of people, many of whom stopped to take the obligatory selfie with their cell phones; the natural wonder in the background, mist from the cascading water drifting up to the sky like smoke from a fire.  The setting should have distracted any thoughts other than the beauty of this natural wonder, but all he could think about was Jolene.    

     At a boutique beer store on Clifton Hill he bought a six pack of local brew and headed back to the apartment he had rented just off River Road. Once inside his room, he opened a bottle, sat at the writing desk and opened his laptop. He soon found Jolene’s website. It revealed spectacular photographs of the Niagara Region, her friends, and a self portrait that captured that magical smile. But there was more. Jolene had started a blog just a month or two before. Her stories were about women that had inspired her: professors, artists, lovers. She had written about how she liked to sleep alone. How she liked her space, her views on life, and her new found literary “voice”. But she also wrote about how she wanted to be a mother, and jokingly mentioned that if she found the right “donor” she would “go for it”. There was a contact link. He took the initiative and sent her an email with the catch phrase “Are you in a band?” in the subject line so she would remember who he was. After typing an apology for being presumptuous, he invited her to attend his book reading at the public library on Victoria Avenue that night. What had he to lose by being forward? He wanted to know more about this woman. It was the same feeling he had when he heard a hit song for the first time, or saw an amazing band in concert. Life was better for it. And he was hooked. He wanted to know more.

(To be continued)