Here’s something a little different from Grumpy. He’s been so busy recently he hasn’t been able to write about anything. Perhaps this attends to the fact that his life, at the moment, is a little droll and scattered.
Nonetheless, he hates seeing this space sit idle. So, he’s decided to post the first chapter (Draft) of a completed Juvenile novel he wrote, but has yet to submit to a publisher. The book is in the fantasy/science fiction genre, dealing with time travel, worm holes and alternate universes.
The main characters are Kevin and Jenny, half brother and half sister, who have never met and who are unaware of each others existence. They are brought together by the Grandfather they share and somewhat despise.
You see, Crocker Pettit has invited them to spend a few weeks at his fishing lodge in Northern, Ontario. His purpose is to enlist his grandchildren to travel through time (Worm Hole) using the magic of a gold coin. The “bait” he sets his “hook” upon is the father they share who went missing many years ago; a father who had abandoned them as toddlers.
Here is the first chapter. Give it a read on one of those snowy days when there’s nothing on the tube worth watching.
GHOST TOWN ADVENTURES
Crocker Pettit sat hunched in his timber-hulled skiff, oars locked in place, drifting.
The old man did not hear the distant call of a loon nor did he feel the placid breeze or taste the sweet essence of pine that that mingled with each molecule of air. The gentle lapping of brilliantly clear water did not lull him as it rocked him to and fro. In fact, the fishing pole clutched in his hand became window dressing the moment he stopped rowing. Crocker Pettit’s mind focused upon another place in another time and, despite the fact that his eyes were shut, his mind was open and exceedingly active. The old man’s thoughts entertained one particular notion that being, the answer to the very question that brought him to this spot in the first place.
Would it be possible to connect the past to the present before his tortured soul and brittle body gave up the ghost?
The old man figured, now that his master plan had been enacted, that it was only a matter of time before he would reveal his dark secret. Maybe then the tightness gripping his innards would subside. Maybe then he could sleep through until dawn and the night terrors would end.
A quick tug on the line caused Crocker’s eyes to snap open.
“Egad,” he exclaimed, as his right hand jerked up, setting the hook hard and fast.
The strike was firm and aggressive, giving hope that the catch would be of lunker proportions. Crocker Pettit played his reel as if were a musical instrument. The whine of the line as it flew through the bale was countered at intervals by the buzz of Crocker’s frantic cranking. Every action was instinctive, born of a thousand repetitions and anchored to muscle memory sixty years in the making. The fisherman quickly realized that he had met his match and there was no certainty that this fish could be landed. Nevertheless, the battle was of a kind the old man savored.
And, it was all about the battle, wasn’t it?
Remarkably, as quickly as he initiated the fight, he released the drag, allowing the fish to dive, and shake the barbed hook free. Slack line slowly spindled at his feet, the pole was set aside and he closed his eyes once more.
It would be bad luck to land such a trophy he lamented. A more prudent plan suggested that he let his fortunes run their course. No sense using up any of the good chances he might be given. Crocker Pettit knew that his scheme required all the luck he could muster.
Two agonizing weeks had passed since he drafted the letters and dropped them in the post. For weeks and months he struggled with the text, never knowing if his words would have the desired effect. Time lumbered slowly forward and, to date, he had not been favored with any manner of response. Perhaps the letters had been discarded, thrown in the trash like junk mail or torn to pieces in a fit of anger. After all, it had been umpteen years since he had seen either one of them.
A gentle mist drifted across the bay to envelope him. The chill Crocker felt in his spine jangled his nerves as if an alarm bell had rung. He sniffed the air much as an animal does when danger lurks. Reading the terrain, the water and the air had been his business for a lifetime.
No wonder the dang fish are biting now, he thought.
Crocker Pettit applied callused hands to the oars, popped them into their pivots, and pulled with all of his might. With any kind of luck, he’d beat this weather front and avoid the kind of soaking that set off his lumbago.
. . .
Kevin Coulter sat perched on a stool facing the expansive bay window that filled the outer wall of his mother’s twentieth floor condominium. With jagged splendor, the Vancouver skyline painted itself across the distant mountain vistas. He watched a lone gull soaring high above the water with its great wings extended, no doubt catching the breeze that blew in from English Bay.
Oh to be as free as the wind, Kevin thought, knowing well that dreams such as this were fanciful.
His mother had finished reading the letter aloud, because when he first learned of it, he refused to open it himself. It was addressed to Master “Punky” Coulter-Pettit, a nickname he remembered, but once detested. He was barely five years old the last time the old man had called him that. Kevin’s stomach rolled and gurgled at the very thought of it.
When he got right down to it, Kevin realized that it wasn’t the man himself that caused his fear and loathing. Rather, it was the circumstances surrounding the man that bothered him so. After all, the last time he spent time with his grandfather was the same time he last saw his father alive. It seemed as if both men walked to a similar beat. They could step into your life just as quickly as they stepped out of it.
“A penny for your thoughts?” Mary Coulter whispered. When Kevin gave no indication that he heard her, she whispered, “Kevin, are you all right?”
Kevin didn’t have a clue how to answer that question. The tense feeling in his muscles and the butterflies in his gut pulled and fluttered in constant waves of emotional dread. The pain of past memories, dredged up again, caused a wooziness that had Kevin gripping the wooden top of the stool. He feared that if he loosened his grip, he’d surely topple to the floor.
“I’m fine, Mom,” Kevin finally blurted, using a tone of voice that wasn’t all that convincing, even to himself. He qualified his lack of enthusiasm with, “See, I’m just not sure how to deal with this yet.”
“You know you don’t have to go,” Mary Coulter said.
Kevin was well aware of that. Nevertheless, there were boatloads of unanswered questions that bothered him. Perhaps this offer would be his one and only chance to find answers. Maybe he needed to get some closure on all of these strange feelings. Weren’t a big part of his current troubles tied to the events of his past?
Kevin felt his mother’s hand stroking the back of his head. Her loving touch calmed him and soothed the yearnings that throbbed like a toothache in his chest. No doubt, she too would feel the effects of this request. After all, didn’t his father abandon her at the most vulnerable time of her life? What an admirable job she had done raising him on her own and what sacrifices she had made.
What to do? Kevin thought, fully understanding that this important decision remained his and his alone.
Kevin watched the lone gull as it swooped down and disappeared behind a wall of buildings that shadowed his line of sight. The ugly feeling that welled up in his chest told him to run. Run as far away as possible. That’s just how the old Kevin would have handled a stressful situation.
Run like the wind!
Turning to face his mother, Kevin whispered, “I need to know the truth, Mom.”
Tears welled from the deep pools of her eyes when she said, “I know, Kevin. You must decide what’s right for you. And, you know I’ll support your decision, whatever it might be.”
The hug Kevin and his mother exchanged was as warm as a tightly wound blanket and yet as soft as baby’s breath.
. . .
Jenny Baker spat with the wind at her back, hoping to miss the long strands of red hair that flailed out in front of her. The weather was blustery and the swells provided the kind of roller coaster ride she never cared for.
“Jenny, dear,” her stepfather shouted. “Pull harder on that line, would ya.”
Jenny did as she was told, but it was hard to focus on the task just the same. Salt spray stung her eyes, as she fought to keep her balance. She couldn’t draw her thoughts away from the letter that arrived that morning. Her mother had dropped into the shanty just as she and Henry were fortifying themselves with coffee. She knew the letter was important the minute she set eyes upon her mother. Wanda Baker’s facial muscles were drawn as tight as a knot that even her dog Willie could not chew out.
Jenny remembered seeing pictures of the rustic fishing camp in Ontario and how different fresh water angling was from the lobstering she did here in Northumberland Strait. Jenny wasn’t sure she would enjoy bait casting and trolling, considering the salt water that flowed in her veins.
What about the old man and his constant badgering? Crocker called her “Carrot Top” and “Red” as if these names were somehow endearing. The old man often dropped in unannounced if he found himself on the East Coast. How many years had it been since his last uncomfortable stopover?
“Hey, girl”! Yer mind seems to be in another place,” Henry called. “If we want to make a living, we need that trap at the surface, not down below settin’ on Davey Jones’s locker!”
Jenny quickly recovered and began to pull hard on the line. She felt the weight of it, knowing well that a good catch meant Henry’s mood would be buoyant. Too often the traps came up empty, and the supper table became silent. It was as if the catch of the day became the barometer for her stepfather’s civility and sociability.
The trap slid over the gunwale and thumped on the deck. A giant claw slowly waved back and forth in deference to the unwanted captivity.
“Looks like a keeper, girl. Careful how you handle it,” Henry said.
“I can handle it,” Jenny replied, as if Henry had any doubt about that. Her stepfather’s broad smile put an exclamation point of ‘well done’ to her effort.
After completing her task, Jenny Baker slid down the steel bulkhead which was now pressed hard against her back. The cold bit deep into the fingers of each of her hands, which she quickly thrust between her thighs. She thought again about Crocker Pettit and the kind of twaddle he might cook up. No matter who you spoke to, the truth of the matter was that Crocker Pettit confounded everyone, badgered most, while managing to piss off just about everyone else. Now he wanted Jenny to come out to Ontario this summer and spend two weeks at the lodge.
Jenny imagined that such a visit would be about as much fun as a trip to Siberia. Thank goodness she had the whole fishing season to make up her mind.
“We’re headin’ in, Jen,” Henry hollered.
Jenny closed her eyes and wished that she could talk to her father about this important decision. Maybe her grandfather could help her find him, she thought. Maybe her father had disappeared for some good reason. Going to the lodge might provide her with the answers that would give her hope that a reunion just might be possible. But when she considered this in the context of what she knew and what she believed, she mumbled, “And maybe pigs have wings!”
. . .
Crocker Pettit sat on the solitary wooden rocking chair that graced the front porch of his quaint fishing lodge. The ancient chair squeaked and squawked with each forward and backward movement. The very sound of it not only comforted him but also provided a rhythmic soundtrack to his meditations. Savoring the scent of the stout cigar he was smoking was part and parcel of his routine. The smoke rings he pushed out into the night air were like perfect halos as they drifted above his head. On the other hand, anyone viewing this scene would never mistake Crocker Pettit for an angel.
The old man’s pensive eyes scanned the dark waters of Byng Inlet which, on this night, reflected the full moon in silver luminescence. The daylight view from this perch presented a panorama of forest and water; a watercolor painting anyone would be proud to hang in their den.
His poker playing clients had long since drifted into slumber. Waking clients at five in the morning was a lodge-duty he truly detested. Crawling out of bed with his bones creaking and his muscles as stiff as cardboard took a tremendous amount of effort. But there were bills to be paid and fish to be caught and a lodge to be kept solvent. Such was the nature of his life’s work.
The main lodge was a weathered log structure which had provided Crocker Pettit with a home since birth. Seeing as how the business had been handed down in his family for four generations, the hundred year history of the lodge was not only storied but also tied to some rather notorious Northern Ontario folklore.
Crocker himself was looked upon as an odd duck, and bit of a recluse, which didn’t at all affect his status as one of the best marksmen in the county. Many of his Byng Inlet cronies fondly recall the day Crocker fired his single shot twenty-two and blasted a tossed-in-the-air dime clear out of the sky
Three scant cabins were perched on the ridge behind the main lodge. As rustic as they were, the creature comforts Crocker maintained provided his clients with a warm and inviting home-away-from-home. From the goose down comforters, to the pot-bellied wood stove, these cabins ignited the pioneering spirit of anyone who chose to hunker down in this neck of the woods.
Until recently, all of the cabins were booked for the fishing season well in advance. Business had been good since the turn of the century.
But times had changed.
Many of the lodge’s most loyal customers had long since passed away, while at the same time, the younger generation was prone to booking rooms in the big family lodges. These complexes boasted a variety of facilities: amenities that kept a family busy and active twenty-four-seven. Fishing became an afterthought for most because the majority of these new-age customers were adverse to roughing-it. After all, wasn’t this the New Millennium?
Crocker Pettit stopped his rocking at intervals so that he could listen to the night. He knew that the forest came alive after dark as predator and prey jockeyed for territorial advantage. There were winners and there were losers and a whole struggle for survival in between. The old man often thought that his life was indelibly tied to this struggle and that, for him, time would soon run out. After all he was eighty years old and if he were a cat, eight of his nine lives had surely been squandered. That’s why he needed the children here at the lodge. That’s why he needed them to carry on with the quest.
The jingle-jangle of the telephone snapped him out of his thoughtful meanderings. He snapped on the cordless receiver with the thumb of his left hand.
“Allo, what can I do you for?” he said, using his standard salutation.
“Hey, Crock Pot, you be forgettin’ bout our little walk-a-bout tonight?” a familiar voice inquired.
Crocker Pettit chuckled when he said, “Geez, Jeb, I surely did. Must be the mystic in this night and the huge see-gar I bin sucking on. Had me mind in another place, I did. You hold the fort and I’ll be over in a jiff!”
“Hey, old buddy, we got a real crowd tonight. Must be over twenty of them city slickers and they’re all chompin’ at the bit to get all scared and shivery-like!” Jeb Harris said.
“Well, we better be given them a good show then, hadn’t we,” Crocker proclaimed.
Crocker and Jeb had been running this little scam for three years now. Both of them had the haggard look of rugged mountain men and bushwhackers. Wearing buckskin coats and raccoon caps made them believable guides for the “Wolf Howl” hike they promoted. The most popular tours were held on nights when the full moon hung in the sky like a great crystal orb. Crocker often said, “That there silvery moon is the best dang special effect God ever provided.”
The scam was as simple as it was Devine. For a mere five bucks the guests at the Georgian Inn could sign on for a midnight trek into the woods. The clincher was the promise of an encounter with a wolf pack and howling that would raise the hairs on the back of their collective necks. The unsuspecting guests didn’t realize that the howls they heard came from the North Country Kennels and Boarding Lodge on the other side of the ridge. Tossing a few venison steaks near the outer fence always set the dogs to howling. On a clear night with a full moon shining, their performance was usually of spine tingling proportions. Jeb used his portion of the money to buy whiskey, while Crocker stashed his score in a jumbo pickle jar, the proceeds of which were to finance his grandkid’s summer adventure.
As Crocker Pettit prepared to leave for his rendezvous with Jeb, his thoughts drifted back to his only son and the sole purpose of the letters he had written. His lone offspring had been a peck of trouble in his own right, what with his free spirit and his wanderlust. “The boy’s a half a bubble off plumb,” people would say. Indeed, you could never get that boy to sit in one place for more than a minute. Even at that, Crocker loved him dearly and sorely missed his company.
Whatever had overcome him that day ten long years ago? What made him stay behind? The children might provide the answer. Perhaps they’d have their father’s spirit of adventure. Only time will tell, he reckoned.
Crocker Pettit slapped the Coonskin cap upon his head, slipped off the porch and sighed, Then, peering at the spackle of glistening stars above his head he remarked, “Right now, I got other fish to fry!”
. . .
The downtown bus rumbled along as if its static suspension sought out the bumps in the road with radar-like efficiency. Continuously jolted, Kevin felt the effect of each hummock vibrate through his entire body. The nose of skateboard deck was tucked uncomfortably under his chin. Kevin’s thinking position.
Kevin marveled at the freedom his mother granted him. Mary Coulter often spoke about her early struggles with life and the sacrifices she made. Now that she had developed her graphic design business into a good money-maker, she wanted Kevin to enjoy some of the rewards. She said she didn’t want him working at some menial minimum wage burger joint, going in and out at all hours, and juggling his homework schedule to make it all work. Mary Coulter proclaimed that Kevin should, “Get out there and work at life, work at being a kid and work at enjoying your high school years.”
And, that he surely did. Kevin used his Go-Card bus pass to travel all over Vancouver. Today’s trip was no exception. Now that was freedom.
Time and again, Kevin set out for the skate park whenever he felt tense or under pressure. The Downtown Skateboard Plaza was at the top of his list. This street-style park was built as one of the first of its kind in North America. The park contained twenty-six thousand square feet of covered space and included feature elements like replica rails, embankments, curbs, walls, ramps, steps and open spaces. All of this was sprinkled with a variety of textures and surfaces such as exposed aggregate, brick, concrete, granite and steel. The park was nestled in the southeast corner of Andy Livingstone Park under the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts.
Although the thrill of riding the board, attempting the tricks and the potential for hazardous tumbles got Kevin’s juices flowing, it was the chirping and the kibitzing from fellow skaters that attracted him to the sport. So many of them were like him; adventurous, free spirited and always down-to-earth easy going. He could talk to them like family, especially when he faced a problem like the letter. The folded paper remained tucked deep in his back pocket. Kevin carried it everywhere.
The half-filled bus screeched to a stop at the Pacific Central Station. Kevin decided that he would disembark and skate over to the park. Throwing his board out in front of him, he ran forward and jumped aboard, applying the mongo-foot style he preferred. When he hit the first down slope he took off like a rocket. The polyurethane wheels whirred like a hundred shopping carts. The air flowing through his hair was like a blast of winter wind, chilling him slightly, but providing a rush of adrenalin nevertheless.
When Kevin entered the park compound he kick flipped into a stop, propelling his board up into his hands with ease.
“Hey,” he said to the group of skaters that gathered around him. “What up?”
“Just kickin’ is all,” a tall blonde boy replied. “Wanna catch some air with us?”
Without answering, Kevin dropped his board and sped off toward the first ramp.
“Nuff said,” the blonde boy responded, knowing well that, in their world, action spoke louder than words. And then to himself, he added, “That boy’s da bomb!”
. . .
Jenny Baker’s family sat huddled around the kitchen table in their small but cozy seaside cottage. The woodstove crackled softly in the corner. A pot of cinnamon-laced apple cider bubbled on the cast-iron surface. The room had the scent and sounds of Christmas even though it was the beginning of November. That was because every meal in the Baker household was a celebration.
On this particular night the conversation centered on Jenny’s plans and what she had decided about the letter. She broke the news to the family this way.
“I’ve decided to go to my grandfathers next July. I think it is important that I spend time with him and get to know him. There’s a lot I don’t know about my father and I think it’s time I found some answers.” Jenny paused to wipe a rogue tear from her cheek. She stood, walked over to her mother, and then placing a hand on her shoulder she whispered, “Mother, you have given me lots of background and details but neither one of us can explain why dad disappeared so suddenly. I need to do this for both of us. I hope you’ll support me in this decision.”
Wanda Baker’s eyes flooded with the tears she had shed so many times before. The maturity and level headed approach demonstrated by Jenny did not surprise her in the least. The girl had backbone. Indeed, Jenny rode life as if taming broncos was second nature to her.
Wanda’s voice broke and her words were barely audible when she said, “Jenny dear, Henry and I stand behind you one hundred percent. You are old enough to stand on your own and, I know in my heart, that you deserve some kind of explanation. Crocker Pettit is the only man on earth who knows the whole truth. You must go to him and seek answers to your questions before he leaves this world and the truth dies with him.”
And so, before the night was out, the plan was complete. The Baker family would use their brief between-season break time and drive Jenny to Toronto. From there, she would take the bus to Crocker Pettit’s lodge on Byng Inlet. Having her mother and Henry close at hand, afforded her the opportunity to change her mind and return to Toronto. It was a comfort to know that her mother and Henry could pick her up within a day of her contacting them. This safety net put both Jenny and her mother at ease.
“I guess I’m kind of excited about the whole thing,” Jenny told her mother as she settled into bed. For years, their nightly routine included a bedside debriefing and gab session. Jenny continued with a question. “Sometimes don’t you wonder about it, Mother? Wonder why you never heard from him again.”
Wanda Baker sighed when she answered, “That I do child. I never believed that your father abandoned us. I always thought he was taken away, and never given a chance to tell us the truth.”
She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. The rhythmic rise a fall of Jenny’s back told her that her daughter was nearly asleep.
With her mother gently stroking her hair, the last words Jenny heard were, “I love you, child. God’s speed to you.”
. . .
“Let me see the freakin’ letter,” Mugsy Petersen demanded.
Kevin slipped the folded piece of paper from his pocket and placed it in Mugsy’s outstretched hand. The gang decided to take a break after Kevin completed his famous crooked nose grind off the longest replica rail. He ended this trick with a rail-slide that gave him incredible air from his pop out. Pumping furiously he came to a stop with a kick-flip that left everyone whooping in admiration.
“That was totally sick, man,” Slew Foot bellowed.
Now that they had entered conversation-mode, Kevin wanted his best friend’s take on the contents of the letter. Billy Petersen and Kevin were as tight as brothers.
“So the old man wants you to come out to the boonies, just so he can get to know you after ten long years of being some kind of an outback-slacker,” Billy remarked. “Cain’t get my head straight on that one, dude!”
Kevin leaned in closer to Billy as if to signal that his next words were confidential.
“Look, Billy, it’s really not about him. It’s about my dad, see. My father disappeared when he was at the lodge with gramps. They were involved in some kind of treasure hunt, see. Granddad told everyone that he and my father had some kind of falling out. That my dad took off in anger and never said where he was heading.”
“And no one’s heard from your pops since?” Billy asked.
“Not a call, nor a letter or nothing,” Kevin sighed.
“So, this is like a last chance kick at the cat for you, eh,” Billy said.
Placing his arm around Kevin’s shoulder and pulling him closer, he added, “Seems like a no brainer to me. You bust yourself outta here and go country. See what the old coots up to. Find them answers, see.” Then referring to one of their more dangerous tricks, he said, “Should be ‘bout be as easy as doin’ a Cabellaerial.”
“So you think I should go?” Kevin asked.
Billy’s laugh distorted his words into a muffled garble. He said, “Ain’t that what I just said you ding dong?”
Kevin face-splitting smile rivaled one of those Billy had seen in toothpaste commercials.
“So, why you cheezin’ so big?” Billy asked.
“Cuz, I got a few more months to bust your chops on the vert ramp,” Kevin replied.
. . .
The main lodge sat in complete darkness, void of sound and motion. A small fire crackled in the massive fireplace, throwing shadows that danced along the ceilings and the walls. The old man sat at his roll-topped desk, fidgeting the whole time because he felt uncomfortable with the moment.
Crocker Pettit turned both cards over and over, thinking that maybe this was a mirage or that his mind was going wonky or worse. He placed these postcards, with a stamp and his return address inscribed, in the envelopes he had sent to Jenny and Kevin. Crocker hoped that his grandkids would drop the cards back in the post, along with their written response. Never in his wildest dreams did he believe that both children would accept his invitation. Surprisingly, both cards were delivered within days of each other and each of them indicated that his grandchildren would visit in July.
The old man took a sip of his medicine; the malt whisky he used to settle his nerves. He’d never been much of a drinker, but recently the haze of alcohol allowed him to settle into sleep and avoid some of the terrifying dreams he’d been having. Steven Pettit spoke to him in these dreams and told him things that were difficult if not impossible to comprehend. It was as if his son spoke directly from the place where Crocker had left him so many years before. In fact, he hadn’t set foot in Lost Channel since that fateful day. He shivered at the very thought of that life altering moment.
Crocker felt as if he needed to get all of his ducks in a row. There were plans to be made and certain preparations that were crucial to the success of his mission. He would call Betty Steward and get some good advice regarding the food and provisions he would need to stock for the visit. Betty had raised two teenage sons and one daughter, and would know the tastes that his cookery would have to satisfy.
Crocker also knew that the visit required a whole slew of interesting and challenging activity. He wished to get know his grandchildren, feel them out as to the quality and strength of their backbones and then gauge whether or not they were capable of handling the truth. He dare not share his dark secret, at least not until he was sure that Jenny and Kevin were capable of action. But they were the son and the daughter of Steven Pettit weren’t they?
The old man wondered whether he was taking the proper course of action. Would his long lost son approve of his methods? Did it really matter?
“I must be danged crazy,” Crocker mumbled aloud. “Maybe the kids will think their old gramps is bonkers and crazy as a loon.”
Crocker Pettit swallowed another sip of whisky, and then downed the remaining liquid in one gulp. The burning in his throat put a flush on his face, but failed to dull the concern that came with the biggest question of all. How would Jenny and Kevin react to each other, given that neither one of them knew the other existed? Putting together a half-brother and half-sister for the first time might just cause this plan to blow up in his face.
“Jeepers creepers,” the old man hissed. “I reckon I’ll be dealing with a real bag of snakes come July!”