Winnipeg Poetry Slam 2015 Final Eight


Reid Dickie

The final eight poets who will slam for the four spots to represent Winnipeg at the Nationals have been decided. The Handsome Daughter hosted the second semi-final round last night where seven poets slammed, four went through to the finals.

The eight finalists are Tharuna Abbu, Julia Florek, Shelly Genthon, Mike Johnston, Rob Malo, Larysa Musick, Amber O’Reilly and Kortnee Stevens.

SUPPLIED Photo  Schoolteacher Mike Johnston is ManitobaÕs provincial slam-poetry champion.

The top poet last night was Mike Johnston (left), Manitoba’s 2014 slam poetry champion. His word and presentation are unique, collegial and compassionate. Click Mike’s pic to see him perform Question Box from last year’s finals.

The second place finisher was young Tharuna Abbu who slammed two personal moments from her life with elegance, enthusiasm and marvelous control. Her first poem made me cry. Unfortunately I don’t have video of Tharuna.

You’ll just have to go to The Park Theatre on Wednesday June 3 to hear her and seven other fine performers slam their best works. The event starts at 7:00, doors open 6:30, admission is $10. Bring a friend.

Read my post on last week’s first round of semi-finals

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Stephen Harper Hates Me. Does He Hate You, Too?

Blues for Canada by Cathy Cook

Click pic


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Filed under Canada Strong and Free, Hope, Music, Politics, Spirit

Winnipeg Poetry Slam 2015

rob malo

Reid Dickie

Last Wednesday night I attended the first round of semi finals in the 2015 Winnipeg Poetry Slam at The Handsome Daughter on Sherbrook Street. Seven poets competed for four spots in the final with the last semi final round coming up on Wednesday May 20 at the same fine venue.

I was one of the randomly chosen judges and dutifully received the derision of the crowd when I scored a poet too low. In my role as judge I used Andrea Gibson as top of the class, Carlos Andres Gomez a notch down. Very high standards, indeed.

The event is held under specific rules with each poet performing twice in random order. My two favourite poets of the evening were Julia Florek and Rob Malo (above), neither of whom needed cheat sheets for their powerful, emotional performances. Their poems, in word and performance, stood above the competition in my humble aesthetic. Rob’s poem It’s Quiet on Langside at Midnight is particularly memorable.

slam2Mike Johnston (left), a Winnipeg middle school teacher who is currently the Winnipeg Poetry Slam Champion, brought excellent levity to the proceedings as the evening’s host.

Mike along with seven other poets will be performing on May 20 for a spot in the finals. Admission is just $8. The Handsome Daughter, 61 Sherbrook has a bar and a restaurant for munchies. The final eight will compete to be among the four poets to represent Winnipeg at the Park Theatre, June 3, 2015. Admission $10.

I plan to attend the next semi final and will have a follow-up report.


Filed under Humour, Language, Slam Poetry

Shirty in Phoenix Mode

Gracious Greetings Gaggle,

Yer old pal Shirty here, conspicuous by my presence.

Back from my near-dearth experience when all my bands suddenly folded back into The Matrix and left me high and…well, just high. I should have recognized the symptoms of holograms: stiff little fingers, inability to pronounce “bilious” and total lack of spontaneous intelligence.

Never fear. My phoenix instinct has kicked in and I have a back-up!

I’ve just signed to Turd Polishers International (TPI) a new sensation from Jolly Old England called The Brittles. Four personable fellows – Johann, Paolo, Jorge and Romulus – from the port city of Livermouth who are real flesh and blood (tested them all myself) and who eat actual food. That alone should make them world giants against the dazed ditzy din of zeros and ones pretending to be human and music.

I have some PR tricks ready so you might as well start saying next month’s new household words now: The Brittles and Brittlemania. Their sudden fan base will lovingly label them The Flab Four. Why? Because all four Brittles are morbidly obese, that’s why.

Fat is the new black – you heard it here first!

Rotund rules!

My first PR stunt is an all-day, all-night eat-in for peace. The slogan is War is over if you eat it. brittles The Brittles left to right: Paolo, Johann, Jorge, Romulus. The short one is the Fifth Brittle, Riggles who is the group’s manager and pecker checker. This is an early picture from when they performed under bridges in Livermouth and area. I’ve toned them down a bit but still leave nothing to the imagination because imagination is passe.

Now that dadbods are hot news at the checkouts, I’m trying to convince a popular magazine to name Paolo as The Sexiest Man in the World. All they need is one shot with his shirt off and this 423 pound boy is centerfold bound. Careful where you put those staples!

The video for The Brittles first smash hit Lunch is still in production. The boys keep eating the scenery! Those nutty Flabs! Snort! But you can be among the first and trendiest people in the world to hear Lunch on the player below.

Are you hungry for more? That’s a symptom of Brittlemania! Play it again. Satisfy yourself.

Another new act I have in the wings is the duo Sperk and Ank. Sperk is an obsolete, deregulated robot doorstop from Japan who sounds a lot like a young Smokey Robinson but even smokier. Ank is “a loose bone collection (19% flesh, 12% water) that escaped from a lab where horrible experiments took place,” according to its bio. Ank plays ganip ganop and trills like a Siamese cat.

As an aside: ganip ganops are now the trendiest musical instruments in the music business. Even Bjork has a matching pair!

Sperk and Ank are recording their first single as we speak. Release date pending the ultrasound results.

That’s my teaser for the new TPI acts. Many more to come as I keep turning over rocks to see who’s under there.

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine.

Surrey on down,


Shirty’s previous email

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View from Atop a Manitoba Sand Dune

JULY 005

Reid Dickie

Click the pic to watch my 2 minute video of a 360 degree panorama from one of the tallest dunes at Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Park.

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Filed under Death and Dying, Earth Phenomena, Hope, Natural Places, Parks, spirit sands

First 2015 Spirit Sands Hike


Reid Dickie

The temperature soared to 26 degrees today with clear skies and slight breeze – perfect hiking weather. I enjoyed the 2 hour drive out Highway #2 today with a few fields already being seeded. I had the whole Spirit Sands to myself when I arrived about 12:30. Stripped down to hiking boots and shorts I headed out on the new beginning to the old familiar trail that I’ve hiked at least 200 times in my life.

The new trail begins with a set of stairs to the top of a ridge. In the picture above you can see the top of the new stairs on the left and a bit of the old sand trail on the right.In the foreground is the newly ground trail. Long time hikers will recognize the split spruce tree as The Sentinel.

Many nice views along the ridge and, due to the heat and the freshly hewn brush, the air was redolent with the rich aroma of juniper and spruce. Mauve crocuses poked out of theIMG_2263 dun understory on south slopes. Not much bird song and no bugs at all, not even wood ticks…yet. I watched two young chipmunks tussle over a cashew I threw them at the first shelter.

The dunes were as welcoming as ever today. I hiked to our spot and sat on the balcony for awhile. Linda and I used to sit on this little ridge on the edge of the dune face that overlooks the spruce and aspen forest which we called the balcony. It was perfect there today.

On the way back a park interpreter was taking a group of high school students on a guided tour. At the trailhead I talked to Max, the interpreter, saying how I liked the new trail route. We chatted about the changes. Lucky guy gets to live in the park all summer! I find all the staff at Spruce Woods Park friendly and always helpful plus it is among the best maintained provincial parks. It’s one of the best day trips in Manitoba with some of our most interesting hiking trails and unique attractions.

The reason for the new trail route relates to the covered wagon rides offered in the summer. A team of heavy horses pulls a covered wagon seating about 24 to the dune face where you can de-wagon and climb to the top of the open sand. The wagon proceeds to the punch bowl, a pond of eerie emerald water, then returns through savanna and mixed spruce forest. The previous wagon route was cutting precariously close to the eroding escarpment above the Assiniboine River. For safety the new route uses some of the old trail and veers off into the bush eventually meeting up with the old route. The wagon ride is a memorable family experience that reveals several of Manitoba’s hidden gem attractions. Plus you’ll get to meet Larry Robinson, a real cowboy, who operates the wagon rides. He’s a terrific guy!

There! Have I convinced you to hop in the car and find Spruce Woods Park yet? No! Here’s six other posts and videos about the park plus a map of how to get there:

September hike post

Moonlight hike on Spirit Sands post

Yurting at Spruce Woods post

Yurt #4 Spruce Woods video

Dog Day Harvest Flies on Spirit Sands trail  video

Spirit Sands hike video

How about now? Great! See you on the dunes!

Here’s a map to help you get there.

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Filed under Day Tripping, Earth Phenomena, Linda, Natural Places, Parks, spirit sands

Carberry Report Spring 2015


Reid Dickie

The Carberry Heritage Festival received some good news this week. In addition to confirming several events for the festival, they were awarded $2300 in federal grant money. The grant, from Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage, a branch of  Canadian Heritage, will help the festival expand its roster of local artisans and performers as well as aid in promoting the two-day festival slated for August 7 and 8, 2015.

I’m helping out again this year acting as publicist for the festival. As more artisans, performers and events are confirmed, watch the festival website for updates. You can also find them on Facebook.

As you can see in the picture above, something is afoot with the old Bank of Montreal on Carberry’s Main Street. Wooden hoarding, scaffolding and debris netting cover the facade. The old pile has fallen into severe disrepair lately and there are concerns that pieces of it have started falling off. A sad situation for a unique building. When I asked around Carberry what was happening to the bank, the responses were quite vague. Public safety is an obvious concern but something else is going on as well. Stay tuned for future reports.

IMG_2265Just west of Carberry, off PR #351, Camp Hughes, the World War 1 training camp, is undergoing a transformation this year. Currently all that marks the spot is a government plaque and a self-guiding walking tour. Friends of Camp Hughes have told me that plans are underway to add a kiosk to the site providing more detailed information about its history. They hope to have it completed by their annual Camp Hughes Day in late summer.


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Spruce Woods Park Spring 2015


Reid Dickie

I made my first foray to my favourite park over the last two days. The Assiniboine River is staying within its banks in the park. I saw no flooding anywhere at Spruce Woods. Further upstream there is some typical flooding of low lying areas around Brandon but the park is dry.

The south facing slopes are dotted with shy purple crocuses these days. I saw flocks of blackbirds along the road and even a few raptors have returned.

IMG_2294The big change in Spruce Woods Park is a reconfiguration of the hiking trail to Spirit Sands. Heavy equipment was cutting a swath through the bush around the trailhead when I was there yesterday. I asked the operator what was happening. Apparently the route the horse-drawn wagon rides take cuts close to the river bank and there is significant erosion so the wagon trail has to be rerouted. It was a surprise to see the pristine area around the trailhead broken and busted up to create the new route. The picture above shows the junction where the trail to the punch bowl goes left, the dunes trail right.

Subsequently the hiking trail to Spirit Sands has been redesigned starting with a new set ofIMG_2295 stairs that takes you straight to the top of a tall dune a little to the east of the original trail. The picture on the right shows the new structure. Though rather vague on the ground, the new trail is marked with direction signs. I only hiked the first few hundred yards of the new trail so I’m not sure where or whether it rejoins the original trail. The bit I hiked felt more strenuous than the original route. I’ll report fully on the new design when I hike the trail, hopefully next week.

The view below is from the top of the new stairway looking down on the buildings at the trailhead with a glimpse of the Assiniboine at the top of the picture.


Other trails in the park appear to be open and in good condition. I couldn’t tell if the lower campground and day use areas will be open or not this summer. The park office is still located at the upper campground and yurts area.

On Monday there were no cars in the Spirit Sands parking lot, yesterday there were four when I arrived. It’s still $5 daily to use the park facilities. The 2015 annual park passes are available now, $40 for the year. MLCC locations now sell the annual passes. IMG_2292

The first activity at Spruce Woods Park happens on April 25. The poster above about the Seton hike appears on the bulletin board at the trailhead. Carberry has a museum devoted to Ernest Thompson Seton and his work in the area. Check out The Seton Centre for more on the man. Carberry is 28 kms north of Spruce Woods Park on Hwy #5.


Filed under Day Tripping, Earth Phenomena, Flood, Museum, Natural Places, Parks

Two Sticks – Fiction

Reid Dickie

The day I met Montana & Lyle whorls of dry, black dust spun past me down the dirt road, dancing to the overhead music of cottonwoods. The breeze died, asphyxiating the dance. Silence and stillness returned to the Saskatchewan prairie. The swelter rose. Morning sagged in the heat.

Wearing just cut-offs and runners in the heat, my bare back pressed against the gnarled, ghostly trunk of an old cottonwood, our auras commingling.  To my left the dirt road disappeared into a spruce and aspen bluff. On my right, the road ran down the flat distance and away. Heat shimmer obliterated the horizon.

Behind me was the house that my friend, Skylark, was visiting. His ailing cousin lived there. Skylark’s blue Buick sat in the grassless yard next to his cousin’s beat-up half-ton. Deep in the truck shade lay an ancient yellow Lab, prone, pregnant and panting in the 110-degree heat. It was the eighth day in a row the temperature had cracked a hundred.

I could hear Skylark’s rattle and soft chant wafting through an open window, a shaman at work. I closed my eyes. The cottonwood and I sent a plume of positive energy toward my friend and his cousin.

Before me, the prairie spread a carpet of dun August grass dotted with clumps of chokecherry bushes, wolf willow and distant majestic cottonwoods. The most prominent feature of the landscape was a huge boulder that bulged on the horizon half a mile away, a granite erratic left by some vanishing glacier. When I fixed my gaze on the boulder and crossed my eyes, a swirl of energy spun up and away, purple against the faint green aura of the place.

Slowed by the heat yet defying evaporation, a drop of sweat fell from my chin onto my chest. A curled cottonwood leaf drifted languidly to the ground settling delicately between three pale blades of gamma grass. The morning came to a standstill.

Cued by something in my peripheral vision I glanced down the black road that stretched away into the wavering heat haze. Slowly, starting a few feet away, the heatshimmer parted. A stunning clarity replaced the obscurity as the opening rolled away from me like a spool in a tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, just this side of the vanishing point, two black sticks, poked in the ground, stitched land and sky together. Though barely discernable, the sticks tugged at my attention. They appeared to move but dissolved as the curtain of shimmer fell.

Overhead a red-tailed hawk, adrift on the updrafts, cried in the heat. A breeze stirred more dust devils from the hot black dirt. My attention kept being drawn to the two sticks.

Through the haze, I glimpsed them moving closer. Skylark’s rattle ticked yonder. My skin and cottonwood skin melded in the heat. Lexicon intact, the tree and I shared primal thoughts – tree to man to tree. I felt whittled.

Borne in this sizzling, August cauldron, the vague and formless sticks shape-shifted into human form. As they neared, I made out two men in lively conversation walking side by side, their voices distant, arms expressive. Nearer now, I recognized the stomp-and-sway gait of young aboriginal men. It’s a side-to-side rocking of the body that accompanies each step, made more obvious by long hair. Urban aboriginals seldom stomp-and-sway. Concrete causes the forgetting of uneven ground; the forgetting of tactile and kinetic responses to earth energies over and through which we pass; the forgetting by the body-memory of how to be where we are; the forgetting of the meaning of shadows; all gone, paved over.

As if passing through a screen of vertical shimmer, two teenagers emerged – six feet tall, muscular berry-brown bodies in cut-offs and runners. Black eyes shining, long black hair swaying, they walked toward me smiling. Their faces were bright, clear, open. And identical! Twins! Not a crazy-from-the-heat prairie mirage of twins, but actual twins!

I stood as they approached; both shook hands with a double clench. I introduced myself.

“Ahh, Aspen Smoke. You are Skylark’s friend. That’s his Buick,” one said. “We hear about you.”

“I’ll bet. What are your names?” I asked.

“I’m Montana.”

“I’m Lyle.”

“Montana and Lyle. Identical twins. Rare.” I said.

“Magical. One egg, two boys,” said Montana. “We were born right over there,” indicating the big erratic in the open meadow.

“How old are you?”

“We’re eighteen,” voices identical, echoes.

Resemblance this close created a pleasant eeriness. The cell-to-cell similarity in skin tone, limb angles, bone shape and musculature seemed sculpted by two winds with a single intent; dark-lipped mouths speaking as one; casting identical shadows – this only begins to define their twinness. As we talked they stood in mirrored poses.

I asked where they were headed on a hot day.

“There’s a little lake in those trees,” said Montana pointing down the road. “We’re going for a swim. Wanna come?”

We headed down the road.

I left a thought at the cottonwood for Skylark so he could find me. He always finds me whether I do this or not. I glanced back at his Buick, now bright purple in the shivering sun.

We walked three abreast and I immediately adopted the stomp-and-sway, kicking up small clouds of dust. Grasshoppers stuttered crazily before us. We were an intent trio, mostly silent, yet in touch. I sensed a powerful bond between the twins, boundless and fluid. This quickened me.  My intuition became prime source. I shared their thought experiences, wondering ‘who’s doing this – they or I?’ I felt they were allowing me this awareness.

When we rested under a grizzled, old oak, I sat across from the pair, genetic dittos defying difference, everything in duplicate. Their skin twitched from bugs in the same pattern; cuticles, areolas, eyelashes, finger joints, laughter – identical. Sometimes belly buttons can be the only point of distinction between idents. Not here.

As we entered the trees, the heat became oppressive. The trail was easy to follow and soon we arrived at the lake. The path skirted the shore under cottonwoods and aspens. A sharp decline and we arrived at a clear pool indented into large flat rocks and shaded by three huge, laconic cottonwoods. We were alone.

“Here’s the swimmin’ hole,” said Lyle.

I knew it was Lyle because there was one small but distinctive feature that set them apart. Lyle had something Montana did not: a thin half-inch scar on his forehead above his right eye, a pale blemish on his dark skin. I surmised some sort of accident but, when I asked, Lyle said he was born with it.

A scar from another lifetime? A cosmic safeguard against rascalism? A mark of distinction inflicted by his brother during womb time? Whatever the cause, a borderline of some kind existed in the scar, expressing the only degree of separation between the two.

I slipped out of my runners and cut-offs and waded naked into the shady pool. The twins did the same. The water felt cool and healing against our crackly skin. I ducked under and broke surface laughing. I heard the ringing, echoey laughter of the twins across the water. We were brothers now in this flickering amniotic pond, coddled by the Great Mother, enlivened by Great Spirit. Our cavorting and splashing sent cool wet sprays into the heat, making the local spirits blissful. We expressed our gratitude aloud. We imitated otters.

Floating on my back, staring at the cottonwoods that towered over the water, I saw speckles of the sky dance in the quivering leaves. I watched the shadow of a curious eagle dodge branches and make a figure eight over the surface of the water. I heard the shy, delicate whispers of the willow. In slow pulses morning became afternoon.

In the pool, we were fishes, lungless, coy and oblivious to the existence of water, happy for no reason. Time passed unnoticed.

Prune-skinned we climbed out of the pond onto the flat, shaded rocks. Something resonated as we emerged from the water with glistening primal skin; a sudden remembering repressed for millennia burst into light and sound. We sang the song the stone taught us. The pool breathed below, the cottonwoods above.

From the eagle’s aerie, we were dabs of fat smeared on a rock. At ground level we were laughing, crying flesh singing the truth song of stone.

When I stood to stretch, the twins laughed at my tan line. They had none.

“White man’s burden,” I said cracking them up. “I’m still evolving.” They clutched their sides in glee.

I looked into their faces. Mystery danced in their eyes, their lithe bodies writhed as they laughed. Again I was struck by their twinness.

Linked from the moment of conception, born on a full moon during a meteor shower, Montana and Lyle had been reared in a place where magic played a significant role. Raised for their specialness, their wisdom, and for the role they were destined to play, the twins were watched closely by everyone they met, watched for some sign, some sacred posture or sound, a warning, a blip. They were watched for hope.

Montana and Lyle’s young parents had tried to conceive for almost five years without success. One day in early fall their mother, Fawnheart, was walking in the sparse forest that covered about one-third of the reservation. She encountered Old Smoke, an elder who still remembered the traditional ways and the old, old songs. He was a kindly, energetic man, related by blood to Fawnheart’s partner, Fire Hawk. Old Smoke sat with Fawnheart on two sitting stones in a shady part of the forest. The old man listened quietly as Fawnheart told her story.

She spoke of the deep, precious love she shared with Fire Hawk, how they endeavoured to love all creation, hoping to conceive a child out of that love. It hadn’t happened and Fire Hawk was feeling disheartened and inadequate.

“I am feeling the same way,” she cried. “We don’t know what to do now. Is Great Spirit punishing us?”

Comforting the young woman, Old Smoke put his right arm around her shoulders. Instructing her to breathe deeply and slowly, he placed his open left palm on the woman’s abdomen and held it there for a few minutes, his eyes tightly shut.

“I can help you,” he said suddenly, breaking the silence. “You know the buffalo rub stone?”

Everyone knew the buffalo rub stone, the big erratic in the meadow.

“In three days it is full moon. That night you and Fire Hawk meet me at the big stone.”

“Yes, I will tell Fire Hawk. We’ll be there.”

“Tell no on else about this,” Old Smoke cautioned. “No one.”

On full moon night, the trio arrived at the big stone, a solid slab of granite over seven feet high surrounded on all sides by short prairie grass. Flat-topped with sides smooth from the rubbing of countless animals, it seemed to float above the ground in the moonlight. The stone was ringed by a grassless, dry moat, hewn from the hardpan by millions of hooves tramping the circle seeking the satisfaction of the stone. Much of the pleasure the stone gave was returned to it by all the creatures it soothed. Not just buffalo but white-tailed deer, pronghorns, elk, mastodons, wooly mammoths all sought the stone’s relief. Even the odd coyote rubbed a flea-bitten haunch against a corner.

A vast reservoir of itches relieved, scabs removed, horns shucked, molting fur and antler velvet rubbed off, hot bug bites quelled and countless unknown pleasures abided within the buffalo rub stone. The pus from infections broken onto the stone from time to time attracted a certain kind of sand wasp with a huge pink thorax, transparent yellow abdomen and a shiny blue head. If you were quiet, you could hear the tiny three-note tune the wasps sang as they sipped. Everyone knew all this.

“Here’s something you don’t know about this stone,” said Old Smoke standing with his right hand pressed against the smooth rock. “This is a Spirit Dancing Stone. Sometimes – only the Mystery knows when – you will see this stone alive with ecstatic dancing spirits. Their laughter crackles in the night. I have seen them myself.

“When I was younger than you I was riding my pony here one evening past sunset. A spinning bluish light encircled the stone. It made a whirring noise. On top of the stone danced two spirits tall as people. They pulsed together like northern lights, a throbbing dance, commingling in mid-air, their faces painted with bliss. I watched them til my eyes had to look away.

“Since then I’ve wondered why I was chosen to see that. When you told me your story Fawnheart, I knew why I’d seen the Spirit Dancers. Here’s what we’re going to do tonight.”

Old Smoke explained the ritual to the eager young couple. They agreed to proceed.

He lit a sage and sweetgrass twist and smudged himself with a soft song on his old lips. He made a slow circle around the stone along the path of the moat; smudging the stone, the young couple and a buffalo robe he’d brought along. While Old Smoke spread the robe over the top of the stone and took a few items from his medicine bundle, Fawnheart and Fire Hawk stripped naked and climbed on top of the stone. They sat cross-legged on the soft robe facing each other, hands resting on the other’s knees.

“Breath deep and slow now,” the shaman told the pair. “Look into each others eyes and do not look away. Let your souls travel the path of your gaze. Know and experience each other this way. Be generous. Share yourself. Be creative. Be love. Create! Great Spirit is with you.”

Old Smoke danced a halting path around the stone. Moving to his rattle in a sunwise direction, he sang a welcoming song to the spirits. The path soon began to fill with glowing spirits dancing alongside the old man. An ecstatic whirlwind began to form around the stone; it funneled upward into the blue-black night toward the tumescent moon.

“Make love now!” Old Smoke shouted to the young couple as he stepped out of the whirlwind into the calm prairie beyond. A spinning cocoon of light enveloped the stone. Inside, the couple looked like vague coupling embryos, dark motes pulsing inside a wild shimmer.

Burning in ecstasy under a full-eyed moon Fawnheart conceived. The Great Spirit smiled and her egg split in two.

That was the full moon in September. Montana and Lyle were born on the same buffalo robe on top of the same rock under the same full moon in June. Perfectly healthy, identical twins. At birth, glowing red lanugo covered their little bodies. Aches and Pains, Old Smoke’s wife, gently scrapped the red fuzz from their new skin with her wizened old fingers. She saved it in a moleskin pouch that she buried until the twins were one year old. Then it was safe to dispose of the fuzz but only by burning it after dark. Overhead meteors streaked the sky as Montana and Lyle entered the world.

The shade had moved off the rocks as we basked in the late afternoon sun.

Suddenly from nearby I heard a shout. “I COO COO AAA! I COO COO AA!”

I recognized Skylark’s voice full of humour and lightness. Montana and Lyle didn’t hear a human voice. They heard a too-close-for-comfort timber wolf howl. Such is the nature of Skylark’s magic. The twins, alert and tense in the presence of a wolf, couldn’t understand why I was laughing. Their bright faces filled with confusion.

“I COO COO AAAA!” Skylark’s laughter, then came a brown streak that vanished in a huge splash of sparkling water. Skylark’s head bobbed up spraying water in our direction, no longer wolfen, now an embodied human in cool relief.

Montana and Lyle relaxed at the same moment, synchronized change of posture followed by easy smiles and laughter, identical.

“Come on in. It’s Indian soup!” shouted Skylark.

We all jumped into the pond, energized by the sudden coolness.

“Hey there’s a white guy in the soup!” yelled Montana.

“This ain’t no tan line soup,” laughed Lyle. “Get him.”

I was beset.

“Let’s throw white meat up to Great Spirit. Let Him decide if he should be in the soup or not,” suggested wise Skylark. Of course, the twins thought it a great idea.

Floating on my back, they lifted me out of the water with gentle strong hands and tossed up toward the low branches of the cottonwoods. It felt like I would crash into the trees but stopped short, seeming to hover before falling. The water barely settled over my belly before I was lifted and tossed skyward again, nearly crashing, hovering, falling. Lifted, falling again and again.

My body recalled a vivid sense-memory from childhood: six years old, being wheeled back to my ward after appendix surgery in Brandon General Hospital. Delirious, nauseous, struggling out of ether-induced sleep, wailing in terror I felt myself rise rapidly from my bed as if lifted, sailing out of control toward the ceiling. Just before crashing I stopped, hovered and descended back down gently to my crib-like bed. I was lifted over and over, almost crashing each time. Each time I thought I was dying and God was pulling me up to heaven. My soul was fleeing the scene of the infection.

Under cottonwood trees, my body translated that memory of early terror into a feeling of comfortable abandon, wiser now, context clear. My soul sailed on wings of laughter and faith, finding safety in this moment among friends, already in heaven.

“Nine times and Great Spirit didn’t take him. Welcome to the soup,” said Skylark. The twins, their long black hair plastered wet and shiny to their shoulders and heads like helmets, laughed as I sank below the surface. No hands sent me flying this time.

As we splashed about, the afternoon grew old. Skylark said he and I were due back at his cousin’s for an evening meal. We dressed and departed after handshakes.

“I count you among my friends,” I told the twins as we left.

“Friends forever,” they both said, their faces lit with beatific smiles.

As Skylark and I walked down the narrow path through the trees, I turned and glanced back at the two men standing at the water’s edge. Almost imperceptibly, they nodded my way.

On the walk back Skylark told me about the twins’ conception and their birth.

“They are special. Great Spirit has important work for them. Did they sing for you by any chance? Skylark asked.

“We sang together. With the stone. The stone made the song. We sang along.”

Skylark stopped in his tracks, and turned slowly towards me. “You sang with them?” He was stunned.

“Yes,” I replied. “It was prairie planxty. Earth music. It felt and sounded, well, indescribable.”

After a silence Skylark said, “You are very lucky. Montana and Lyle share songs only with ones who have lived the Mystery. Do you remember the song?”

I did. Still do. The crux of the melody is a subtle tune with a hint of melancholy. Or is it a relaxed certainty? Serenity, perhaps? The song stays with me, at times welling up from my heart, seeking expression, sometimes in the light of day, other times on clear moonless nights.

Later that night when we left Skylark’s family after hours of food, music and laughter, I found a crumpled paper bag on the hood of the blue Buick. The bag had my name written on it. Inside were two short round pieces of wood with smooth black bark, slightly speckled. The sticks were from the same branch, each about four inches long, flat ends, as big around as a nickel. On the cut end of one stick, carefully carved was the letter ‘M’, on the other, ‘L’.

With the sticks was a hand-written note: “When a person forgets their earth/sky connection, these will help them remember. Be well. M & L”

“Do you know what those are?” asked Skylark, a smug grin on his face because he knew what I’d say.

“Haven’t a clue.” I was puzzled.

“Memory sticks. For between the toes,” Skylark said. “Grandfather had a pair. I believe he was given them when he was a young man by twins, like you. They were female twins. His sticks were dark and speckled, like yours.

“Grandfather carried them in his medicine bundle right up to the time of his death. A few days before he passed on Grandfather called me to his tent. He was alone, sitting on a stone. He had the two sticks clasped between his hands when I entered. He was chanting a prayer of gratitude to the sticks, thanking them and the Creator for all the healing they’d done together. He told the sticks it was time for them to be transformed, just like him. After smudging himself, the sticks and me with sweet cedar, he motioned me to open my palms. He gently placed the sticks on my hands. Still covering them with his hands, he told me to take the sticks to the nearby stream to a certain spot we both knew. I was to push them into the ground where the earth was soft but not muddy with the initials facing up. I don’t remember the women’s names but the initials were M & L, just like yours.”

That familiar tingle of synchronicity blossomed in me.

“The next spring,” Skylark went on, “where I’d pushed the sticks in, bright green shoots sprang up even before the snow was gone, as early as crocuses. They grew rapidly into a willowy tree with dark red branches, bright shiny leaves and supple limbs. It still grows there. I’ll take you sometime.”

“Your Grandfather continues to teach us even to this day,” I said. “Now I know my responsibility to these sticks if I use them for healing.”

“He is very generous,” said Skylark wistfully. “And now we know the reason for Montana and Lyle’s visit: to give you the memory sticks. Everything is a circle.”

“How long have the twins been dead?” I asked.

After a pause, Skylark said Montana and Lyle died over fifty years ago in a car accident just down the road from his cousin’s place, not far from where I’d met them.

That night back at our campsite I smudged the sticks and said prayers of gratitude for them and my new spirit friends. Then I added the sticks to my medicine bundle.

Since then, I’ve used the sticks many times: to help people sailing on a balloon of depression, to help women conceive, in cases of Ancestral Calling and as tools to help me remember my humble place in the universe. Each time I use them I sense Spirit contained in the sticks and I am reminded of that perfect summer day, the day I met Montana and Lyle.

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Filed under Fiction, Saskatchewan, shamanism

Another Woman – Flash Fiction

Reid Dickie

She wasn’t just another woman.

Skyway, Speedway, Bayway, Skytrain, Gotrain, Bullettrain. I rode them all. I’ve seen women on them all, millions of women.

She wasn’t just another woman.

She was golden.

She exuded some kind of chemical that glommed itself to every man and every woman in her presence. A chemical transformation followed that created a little furnished room in everyone’s mind where she could live. She’s there right now.

Like Cleopatra, she wore a golden headband in the shape of her assassin. She proceeded through the world fully aware of the end of her story.

On the other side of town a boy was waiting.

He took a drag on his Pall Mall, ballooned smoke out his mouth, sucked it back in, exhaled dragon exhaust.

“Fuck it.”

His boot extinguished the butt in the dirt.

From a passing car, Eagles sang, “This old world still looks the same, another frame.”

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Ghostidiot – Fiction

Reid Dickie

The subject line on her email read, “jus what yu ned ^ mor crapp 22 reed”

She was right about the crap. It was dreadful writing, unapproachable from any direction, almost incomprehensible. However, I had signed a contract to edit her memoirs and she could well afford my $50 an hour fee.

At the outset, though I had spent almost no time with her, I was excited to have a large new project. We met just once and talked very briefly. From behind her large dark glasses, she said she liked the look of my “facial face.” I gave her my resume, clips and book. We talked on the phone twice, on the second call she hired me. She sent a courier right over with the contract, signed, sealed, redelivered.

She struck me as wealthy but lacking sophistication and trying to conceal this lack with eccentricity. When I asked for specifics about her life and the purpose of her book, she was vague and indifferent, saying, “I know you’ll surprise me.”

She told me when she finished writing a chapter, she would email it to me for editing. I awaited Chapter One.

I vividly remember seeing the subject line of her first chapter come up. It said “Chapter On…Lovly Death.”

Excited, I clicked it open.

“Chapter On” was like a message from Jupiter.

I read it, reread it and reread it. I was baffled, a sheet of confusion. Her ramblings were devoid of structure, grammar, reason, intent, subject, focus and purpose. The vaguest syntax awkwardly weaved in and out of some profoundly warped English.

Flummoxed, I kept rereading her words hoping to distill even an ounce of meaning or intent. None came, nothing. My frustration grew until the epiphany: I was trying too hard!

There was no literacy here, no depth, almost nothing to go on, just hints spattered across the pages, memories from shadowy places crying out for light, my light. I started to rewrite.

That was six weeks ago.

After Chapter Two, a long and grueling account of her strange, cruel mother who was more interested in raising chickens than children, I began to dread checking my emails lest her latest chapter awaited my attention. A lone click away there might lurk something uneditable that had merely swum in the same ocean as English and based a language on that experience.

My fee – now billing almost 200 hours – is my only consolation. The content of her remembrances provides no rewards. She mostly recalls pointless, uninteresting things about nearly everyone she knows or knew. It is awful, just awful. But she is rich and her big idiot ego needs a book.

To that end, I have become her ghostidiot.

I clicked open her email. The subject said “Chaters 7 Lovly Death”

The name of her book is “Lovely Death.” Wonder why?

You’ll just have to read the book…no, no you won’t. I’ll tell you.

To finish each chapter about a family member or a friend, she ends by hoping they have or had a lovely death. She is adamant about this so I must go along with her feeble, morbid hook to give this thing any cohesion.

Sadly, most of the deaths she remembers, not because they were lovely, but because they were rending and gruesome. Her parents died very unlovely deaths, which shall not be recounted here.

Since I have spent several hundred words carping about her writing, it is time for you to get a taste of the raw beast, to be sprayed with her toxic slurry. The sharp, swirling chopper blades of syntactic apocalypse are approaching. Be brave. It is messy.


 Junie Bug Rupple

thens maw ant juniei liki in……juneie bug junie bug sh from cromartys yondr fouk to brindle county wif wifves all ^ tangl in theyer birches sh from thym junie painned purchures merteerials merteenials sh foun sh…….like painnne wifbalrushs an cabs an chic bons an beeks sh sur lik a lotta reshut beeks clim clim junie …..sur di lik lota beeks a dung, her lik a dung fur purtchers too…lota he purtchures soll… in  wedrich stors fur art… fir hunnrs hunnrs dolards an an I. ama membr dermtun sh clim mea stay wif her ize bout ten year fur ^weeks…at hers sumer….sh live in harnit ol… wrekety ^ hous poin tee roofs wodt starcases up an don sh chas ame up a don starchezzs wift a stinck…..stink izeize…bofh laffin lik wis ach earlee crazzee in uur owen wayts, ech laffin too ..peein up usselfs…sh lock mea in .room att nitt….juniei me misses^^ sh bein preshenit reel wi her. i wuner whirr thyms beeks clim purcchures is tonitt.

You now have a fuller appreciation of my job as ghostidiot.

Junie’s story goes on for fourteen more pages with much, much more about beeks. Eight of the pages are nearly incomprehensible tangents about glunock and klepsums.

What could dermtun and preshenit seek to signify? Their context, such as it is, is not helpful. I will add them to my long list of questions to ask her. From Chapter 7 alone, there are now 19 “words” about which I am meaning-impaired.

I don’t know what the dots are supposed to signify since there is no repeatable pattern to them. Perhaps they are thinking marks. They and ^, another mystery, are her only punctuation, if that is what they are. All this gives me enormous grief and latitude to interpret whatever she may be trying to say.

My client doesn’t talk at all like she writes. She speaks in sentences and creates syntax. The written form plumb eludes her. I have transformed her life into English, which she appreciates when she reads it. She just can’t seem to create using it.

Maybe she’s putting me on for her own amusement, getting her money’s worth.

Maybe she’s channeling someone.


Despite the liberties I have taken with her words, she has indicated approval of my work on the first five chapters and quickly paid my weekly invoices. On the back of one of her cheques she wrote, “thees s vury terorpull’ddic fuour i me as”

I suppose you will now require me to put my fee where my mouth is and edit. Fair enough.

A couple of things: I have two partial family trees that she gave me, one for each side of her family. That is where I found June’s middle name and her husband’s first name. The Cromartys are some kind of inter-marriage group, like, but not, cousins. She is related to them but not through June Rupple, as she suggests. I haven’t figured out the relationship yet. It’s on the list.

Here, after fourteen hours of consternation, contemplation and imaginings, is what became of Chaters 7. (I know I’m out of sequence but I needed a break from Chapter Six, which is over fifty harrowing pages about her twin brothers, one a genius, the other an imbecile.) I have spared you the whole chapter and just translated the original section quoted above.


 Third rewrite

 June Ninette Rupple

June Ninette Rupple was my mother’s older sister. People called her Junie Bug. She married Biggaty Cromarty and lived in Brindle County where they had a large family.

Aunt June was an accomplished artist who used unusual objects as brushes, applying paint to create unique textures and depth. She used corncobs, bulrushes, chicken bones, dung and even chicken beaks, to which she was especially attached. City art galleries sold many of her paintings, some fetching hundreds of dollars.

When I was about 10, I spent two weeks that summer staying with Aunt Junie. She was quite old by then and lived in a big ramshackle house with a many-pointed roof. It had several wooden fire escapes coming from the top floor. Junie and I would chase each other up and down the fire escapes, laughing til we peed ourselves. I have such fond memories of Aunt Junie. Perhaps she was a little crazy.

End of my translation and I’m sticking to it.

Even as I bask in the pleasure of preparing my invoice – 37 hours billed this week – my bliss is blemished by the dreadful certainty that, somewhere out there, Chapter Eight percolates in the nethersphere of her need.

I am repelled and attracted at once.

I had better check my emails.

Wish me luck.

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Masonic At Last!

REID masonsscan0001


Finally! After multiple tries I’ve Gone Masonic as you can tell by the hat. What a proud expression I wear. It’s not the Freemasons. I’ve been accepted into the Affordable Masons, we’re different. No conspiracy theories here. We’re affordable. No Masonic temple. We meet in Tony’s garage and knock back a few. No blood rituals or aprons. Just the hat.

The hat BTW has been handed down in my family since the Dark and Scary Ages when Coke came in glass bottles with caps that had little round corks inside them. That’s what the hat is made of – the corks. They’re shellacked and the tassel, made of sheared Aumlomian yak tail, added. If you are lucky enough to find one of these in a thrift store these days I’d wager you’ll pay upwards of 85 cents to a dollar for it.


Filed under Humour


Suddenly, inexplicably one year I grew a set of antlers but I rubbed them against a fencepost and they fell off. Nice rack, eh?

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These Are the Flashbacks McLuhan Promised Us

Ah, the things we do to buy Baby a new pair of shoes! Here I am, somewhere in the 1980s, on my first day of training at Winnipeg’s only half-nude McDonalds. I seem happy.

On my second day of training they promoted me to foreman. Still seem happy!

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Panic Don’t Panic – Fiction

Reid Dickie

A steamy prairie wind blows in from the west, the city swelters, the garbage blows up and down Graham Avenue. Come Soon Summer does a finger check because the wind told her to. She curls her fingers toward her and counts. One two three four five. One two three four five. Yup, all there, even the one with the dirty plastic band-aid on it. Someday she will look under the band-aid and see what is there but not today.

She knows the finger stealer is nearby. Perhaps it’s the white man who thinks he’s cool in wrap sunglasses. Maybe it’s the old black lady with the thick glasses and the polka dot shopping bag. Or it’s the tiny drooling googly-eyed baby in the huge plastic carriage, or its mother, the thin distracted woman sipping a take-out coffee through a straw as she navigates the giant tram through sidewalk traffic, picking away at some black thing in her hand, the plugs in her ears telling her how to be in the world and what to do. Whoever it is, there is danger.

Come Soon Summer hears all about the danger from the wind through the elm saplings along the sidewalk, the whish of the bus tires on hot cement and the chattering in her head. There is danger. One two three four five. One two three four five.

When she remembers where she lives, Come Soon Summer can always go home, back to the little boxy house in the bush by the little stream that drowned somebody every summer for twenty five years but never drowned Come Soon Summer, not even once. In the house she sees her half-brothers Ilis and Orlis feet up watching some game on TV, eating zesty chips from crackling bags and bubbling water from plastic bottles. She sees first their feet then their legs being removed by the diabetes and she sees the spinning spokes of their wheelchairs create fluttering birds in the late afternoon sun. She spirals into the flickering light, her fetch overshadows her ghee. She doesn’t understand her thoughts.

Come Soon Summer finds a piece of thick blue chalk on the sidewalk. It is a finger, she thinks, someone has lost a finger. She counts her own fingers. One, two, three, four, five. One two three four five. All there.

She picks up the chalk, which has fallen out of a girl’s bag as she ran from the library to the waiting family car. Is the library on fire? Come Soon Summer asks herself again and again until she can’t remember the question anymore. That’s how she likes it, when she can’t remember the question anymore. She is holding chalk with all her fingers. That’s all. That’s all she knows, needs to know.

She remembers she can write. She can’t think of anything she needs to write or even wants to write. Come Soon Summer has no words. She stands weeping wordlessly as the library door swooshes open and closed.

She remembers the only two words any of us really need to know. They come rushing at her, toward her and she captures each one before it gets lost inside the word zoo building. Together the two words squeeze out small music in her mind.

The blue chalk is becoming moist and crumbly in Come Soon Summer’s hand. She now knows she needs to write and she knows what she needs to write. She kneels and applies the blue chalk to the red brick sidewalk in front of the library. A wad of gum sticks to the chalk. She flicks it away and feels the chalk expressing her command beneath her hand. She feels powerful. Her words appear large and blue.


 Don’t Panic

Slouched against the stone building Come Soon Summer watches as library patrons walking in and out scuff her words away, her important message, her blue lines disperse like clouds in a red brick sky, vaguely tinting the soles of boots and shoes that later at home cats will sniff and sneeze from the blue dust of her chalk.

Come Soon Summer sneezes just as a woman in office clothes bends toward her offering her a loonie. Come Soon Summer takes the metal thing and smiles widely at the woman, revealing her blackened and broken teeth and the dark gums that still keep some of them in place. Come Soon Summer looks at the metal thing in her palm and suddenly lets out a yelp that startles a library patron who is chaining up his bike at the rack. One of her fingers is gone! Another yelp! Gone! One of her very own fingers! Counting one, two, three, four… only four, one gone! She curls her fingers toward her and counts again. “One two three four…” Still one short! Panic, Don’t Panic, Panic, Don’t Panic!

Something else is going on.

Come Soon Summer looks across Graham Avenue into the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church where men are shouting and hooting. Coming on the run around the side of the church is a barefoot young Cree man pursued by four slightly older native men, all of them high as kites on whatever they managed to steal from Canadian Tire that day. The boy runs through the iron gates into the traffic on Donald Street barely dodging cars. Traffic clears and his pursuers easily catch him on the sidewalk beside MTS Centre. They strip off his torn t-shirt and hold him as they take his jeans and run across Donald waving his clothing victoriously in the air. They stand across the street, pointing at his nakedness and shame, their laughter sounds like coyotes.

The naked man’s name is Shaq, actually Shaquille. Short on heroic role models of their own, Shaq’s young Cree parents named him after a black American basketball player due to cross-cultural empathy between downed natives and suppressed American blacks. Shaq is not seven foot one, he’s five foot ten. His smooth young body carries two souvenirs. Along his right side above his waist is a foot-long scar, still red from a knife attack by his drunken sister three months previous. Shaq almost bled to death that time. A sharp indentation on his right shoulder reminds him of the bullet that he caught on Alfred Avenue in the North End when he was eleven. Friendly fire, the cops called it.

On the sidewalk next to MTS Centre, Shaq quakes in anger, his head and long black hair shake as he clenches his fists by his side. Throwing back his head, he lets out an enormous existential wail of angst that echoes back and forth between the old church and the brick and glass boogie room. As he wails, his arms and clenched hands rise skyward, fists shaking over his head. His prolonged, resounding howl sounds like Wolf.

Naked and howling Shaq feels perfectly alone. He reaches inward and draws out his power animal fully, becoming Wolf on the sidewalk next to MTS Centre, powerful, brave. He howls again and again, each more desolate, more authentic than the last. He looks down at his naked body and howls again, this time tinged with a little laughter but ever Wolf. He throws his fists open and claws flex out of his fingertips. He leaves scratches on the afternoon sky.

His tormentors, though still curious what he will do next, lose interest in the game and throw his t-shirt and jeans onto Donald Street. Shaq watches as cars run over his clothing again and again. Clothing seems so irrelevant now, so unnecessary, so imperfect. I am perfect, Shaq thinks. When the traffic clears, he walks into the street, retrieves his wardrobe and dresses in the middle of Donald Street while drivers honk around him. Smiling and baring his teeth, he gives each one a fond finger.

At the same time as Shaq is naked and howling, behind him and proceeding along the sidewalk next to MTS Centre Come Soon Summer sees an orderly double line of poisonous mushrooms, orange bobbing mushrooms, the most dangerous kind!

In fact, they are not poisonous mushrooms, or even mushrooms. They are the Grade Two class from Our Lady of In Spite of Ourselves Catholic School – all twenty two of them, each wearing a neon orange hat for easy spotting during disasters – under the management and advisement of two obese diabetic women who are not their teachers but teacher’s assistants assigned the dirty job of tending the small flock through the maze of downtown, treacherous filthy downtown with its lurid crime, lack of predictability and unbenign deaths as seen on TVs in Squash Squander Heights and other suburbs surrounding Winnipeg. The women and their entourage are headed toward the Millennium Library for Storybook Time with Gerty Glucosemeter.

Both Eleanor Fecunder and Sessious Pindrover, minders of the little herd and both mothers though not of any of the children in their tow, are wearing similar toxic orange hats. The children have been trained to look for “the lighthouse of an orange hat if they are feeling lost.” As a result, child snatchers now, as a rule, have a neon orange hat in their glove box. Neither Eleanor nor Sessious know this or even care. They just want to get the herd to the gee dee library without any of them being flattened by a bus.

Sessious, leading the line, is the first to notice the commotion of the Indian boys. Her heart rate jumps thirty beats a minute, her eyes widen and her pupils dilate in a strange reaction to the anti-depressants she gobbles daily. She sees the naked man, turns toward the children and screams at the top of her lungs, “STOP!”

Bumpily, all the children stop, most are frightened, some start to cry. Eleanor, riding shotgun at the rear, finally sees naked Shaq and yells at the top of her lungs, “RUN!!” Confused, the children start to run past Sessious and Shaq. All of them turn to look at Shaq. Waiting for the light at the end of the block, some children still cry, others, curiosity enflamed, stare big-eyed at the man howling on the sidewalk. Storybook Time with Gerty Glucosemeter turns out to be rather anti-climatic. All the mushrooms make it through the ordeal, none squashed, all home safe and sound.

That evening, around the dinner table in the Bubbler household on Pillsbury Crescent Roll Crescent in Plunging Plover Plateau, Dad (Blair) asks his seven-year-old Son (Seth) what he learned in school today.

“I saw a wolf.”

Dad (Blair) is surprised. “You saw a wolf? Really? Where did you see a wolf, son?”

“Downtown, when we went to the lyberry, there was a wolf howling on the sidewalk. He had no clothes on.”

Dad (Blair) smiles at his son’s active imagination.

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Filed under Fiction, Manitoba Heritage, Winnipeg

Discarded Children – Fiction


 Reid Dickie

Rebel reaches for a box of tampons and slips them inside her jacket. Above her head, the convex mirror relays the image of her crime to the clerk in the convenience store.

“Hey,” the clerk says loudly. There is no mistaking she is talking to Rebel.

“Hey!” she says louder. “Put that back, you thief!” The clerk is walking briskly toward Rebel.

The clerk is in her mid twenties, bigger and taller than Rebel but a hint of fear in her voice betrays her bravado. Rebel recognizes the fear and, her face twisted into a sneering mask of hatred, starts walking toward the clerk. She growls a low sustained warning but the clerk keeps coming toward her, talking louder.

As the clerk stumbles backward from Rebel’s glancing blow to her face, the tampons slip out of their hiding place and fall to the floor. Rebel scoops up the small box and runs from the store. Blocks later, her heart raging in her chest, Rebel stops and leans panting against the cement wall of the parkade where she lives. She feels wet warmth draining from her crotch.

Her period wasn’t something Rebel had considered when she finally fled her mother’s alcoholism, her stepfather’s sexual advances and her brother’s manic depression. The harrowing environment of dysfunction she left behind receded into the cruel reality of living on the street, finding something to eat, a place to sleep, warmth, cleanliness, friendship, even love. At this moment, Rebel would settle for a few minutes alone to deal with her menstrual cycle.

She slips into the near-empty parkade. It smells of engine oil, exhaust and the faint rancid odour of discarded things decaying. And, of course, urine. The ill-lit corners in the cement parkade are dark and eaten away from uric acid.

Everybody’s always pissing. Rebel has watched businessmen carrying $1,000 briefcases and wearing $3000 worth of clothes, step into a corner and piss to their heart’s content before getting into their expensive cars for the commute home. She has seen women dressed in elegant evening gowns and long gloves, aglitter with jewels, yank up their dresses and squat to relieve themselves. One woman took a small lace-edged hankie from her tiny evening bag and daintily wiped herself with it before carefully folding it and putting it back in her bag.

Like dogs, everybody’s always pissing. The creepy security guard who works midnights lets it hang out and leaks wherever he pleases. If he thinks he’s alone he’ll stand in the middle of an empty level and spin around in circles, howling and pissing, his cock flying in the centrifugal force.

It is after-hours for the day workers who drift in from the suburbs and their comfortable homes, park and secure their expensive cars and SUVs so they can perform their important daily grind feeling secure. Seldom do they notice Rebel, even when their headlights sweep across her, crouched forlorn against the cement.

She reaches up into a recess in the low ceiling of the parkade and hauls out her knapsack that contains everything she owns. She finds some table napkins she lifted from a donut shop and rummages for a fresh pair of panties. The ones she finds aren’t fresh but they’ll do. She crouches behind a low dividing wall and slips out of her jeans. Her crotch is sticky with blood. Wiping away most of the purged fluid, Rebel opens the small box, unwraps a tampon and gently pushes it in. It hurts a little going in but feels settled and helpful once it’s fully inserted. She pulls on her clothes; her jeans are foul smelling and soiled with her blood.

Rebel’s stomach rumbles. Damn. Why hadn’t she grabbed a bag of chips or something along with the tampons? It would have made the escapade complete and her punch more justified. Rebel resigns herself to another dumpster dive behind a fast food restaurant.

She sits and relaxes in the quiet parkade. She hears echoey voices coming over the cement wall. Several other runaways share the parkade with her but the voices aren’t theirs so she doesn’t check to see who it is. A minute later, a car engine starts up and pulls away toward the exit ramp.

Silence returns to the parkade.


Reid Dickie

“For fuck sake lady, my name is Rebel. Just call me that, can ya?”

“If you want us to help you you’ll have to tell me your real name.”

“Rebel. Rebel is my fucking real name.”

“All right. I’ve had enough of you. Get out.” She closed the file, looked up and saw Rebel giving her the finger as she strode out of the office.

As Rebel fumes down the corridor, she meets the Duchess of Street Medicine who’s overheard her meeting.

“Hi Rebel. My name is Lily,” she says extending her hand to the girl.

Rebel stops, looks from Lily’s open face to her hand and back to her face.

“You’re old. Fuck you, Lily.”

As Lily watches Rebel disappear around a corner, she says to herself, “I am old. I sure feel old today. Even a Duchess needs respite from the street sometimes. I should go visit my brother out on the home farm. I’ll give him a call.”

The Duchess of Street Medicine has the patience of Job, the humility of Mother Teresa, the fingers of Jerry Garcia and guts containing yesterday’s chicken dinner because she has a cyst the size of an orange gradually blocking her upper bowel so give her a break if she seems fidgety or inattentive during today’s session with a broken ten-year-old named Cooper who was a “tail” baby.

“How about taking your helmet off early today, just for the Duchess? It would make me smile,” the Duchess offers hopefully.

Inside his helmet, the universe flickers on and off so fast Cooper can barely keep up but he does and he smiles his crooked little smile, his secret smile that only he and his helmet know the true meaning of. All the constellations of his world glow across the dome of his helmet. It is the safest place in the universe and Cooper knows it. His helmet knows it too and knows how to sustain the universe just for Cooper and keep the universe unfolding Cooper’s way. Just for The Duchess he slowly removes the helmet.

“Me worried about brother me.”

“Which one, Cooper? Your real brother or your imaginary brother?” she asks.

“Umm…I think he’s brother me real.”

“Wayne. Why are you worried about Wayne?”

“Is Wayne brother me real? Me mixed get up.”

“I know. It’s all right. Wayne is your flesh and blood brother. The one you can pinch.”

“Okay. Me pinch. Me know who now is him is now. No. Not him is now. Not now. Me brother other.”

“Hymns Ladders. Your imaginary brother? Why are you worried about…”

“Oh, Me really now up mixed.”

“Wayne is your real brother, the one you can pinch, Hymns Ladders is your imaginary brother, the one you can’t pinch.” The Duchess wonders how many hundreds of times she has explained this difference to Cooper.

“Me brother real, I as worried about pinch brother.”

“Why are you worried about Wayne, Cooper?”

A frightened look crosses Cooper’s face. “Me gone as. Bye bye.”

Cooper quickly puts the helmet back on and little body relaxes. He smiles. The Duchess sighs and thinks of the home farm.

Later, at the foster home, Cooper smiles at the loaf of bread but it doesn’t smile back as it usually does.

“Bread sad is?” Cooper asks.

The bread says nothing so Cooper asks again.

No reply.


Reid Dickie

“Johnny Cash.”

Conrad stood at the counter of the convenience store, his emaciated body weaving inside his dirty clothes. He didn’t know why the cashier couldn’t understand him. He moved the stinking rag away from his face revealing black patches of skin around his nose and upper lip, deterioration due to continuous contact with the gasoline Conrad sniffed every day all day. He spoke again without the rag over his mouth and still the person did not understand him.

Conrad couldn’t tell if the person was a man or a woman. His eyesight was growing dimmer everyday from sniff. Squinting, he repeated his words to the cashier. They made perfect sense to Conrad.

“Johnny Cash.”

Based on scrambled prompting from his dissolving brain and passing through his black rotted teeth and decaying lips, all that came out was an incomprehensible hiss of air. Conrad had been unable to form words for several months.

“Johnny Cash.”

Just after his tenth birthday, Conrad Nightbird began sniffing gasoline with other children on the grim Pikangikum Reservation in northwestern Ontario. The poverty, abuse, disease and desperation in which he was immersed seemed to diminish with each deep pull of the acrid solvent that Conrad took into his lungs. His mind settled into a sustained state of indifference to the world around him. Nothing mattered. Sniff erased caring. He liked that.

If he could still have remembered back to his early use of sniff, Conrad would have recalled being huddled around the warm air vent outside the dilapidated school in the middle of dark winter nights with a group of other children from the reservation. He would recall the rag that passed from dirty hand to dirty hand, the relief the rag brought and the smell of young addicted bodies. He might have remembered accidentally setting fire to the community centre and the subsequent banishment of him and three other teens from the reservation.

That was when Conrad drifted into Winnipeg.

Since then, he had lost the mental capacity to remember anything of his past or to anticipate a future. All that remained for Conrad was a confused and dim now, a present that was mostly a blur. Sniff had wiped away the brain cells needed for thoughts and memories. Any personal ability he may have developed to analyze and think things through was gone. He could no longer step back and observe himself; all perspective had dissolved into the solvents. His sense of self was flat and momentary. He barely existed.

Without a sufficiently distinct sense of himself, Conrad could no longer support complicated feelings such as love or anger. He was not capable of emotional range. All that mattered to him was basic bodily impulses and instincts but, in the throes of his deterioration, even hunger and sexual arousal had been erased. He was left with only one instinct, one need: to cauterize himself and the world with sniff.

This was not an egocentric requirement. The loss of personal perspective and the brain damage from sniff reduced Conrad to a pre-egoic state, back to the primary matrix. The only reason he existed was to feed his cells the sniff they screamed for every moment. It was his only attachment to the world, his last responsibility.

Most of his language was gone. Conrad was reduced to a few basic sounds, mostly senseless noises. To Conrad, his noises remained a murky communication that still allowed him contact with others.

“Johnny Cash.”

The one thing, in some cases the last thing, all huffers truly know is that fire will kill them. Open flame of any kind is their nemesis. It takes a single witnessing of a sniff-drenched friend who forgot and lit a cigarette. The indelible image of a human being exploding like a bomb from internal fire will not be denied, no matter how high you get.

Conrad’s last emotional strand related to this fear of fire, yet he was not sure what fear was anymore. He did not know if it felt good or bad. This left him uncertain about fire.

Conrad’s only other link to the world was through music. Vague and fleeting, snippets of song lyrics or distinctive voices still resonated inside his mind. He was saying “Johnny Cash” because he “remembered” a song about fire Johnny Cash sang. Conrad’s previous request at this same convenience store several days before had been “chestnuts” because he recalled a song about chestnuts roasting. The clerk did not understand him then either.

Since the cashier could not understand his words, Conrad began to express himself with uncertain gestures of his right hand. It moved in the air like a dirty grotesque puppet, nails and fingertips black and rotting from the solvents. Conrad’s squinty eyes traveled back and forth from his fingers to the hazy form behind the counter. Neither his words nor gestures were getting through to the cashier.

Something distant but overpowering began to rise in Conrad. In that undifferentiated wasteland that was the remainder of his awareness, an emotion was emerging. Though he could not identify it, Conrad was feeling frustration due to the lack of communication. And his body was responding!

As the central organ dealing with toxins, Conrad’s liver had become a sluggish mass of disease and corruption. It began sending flushes of toxic waves through Conrad’s bloodstream several days before. This sent shooting pain through the core of Conrad’s body. At the convenience store, this enormous pain registered for the first time in what was left of Conrad’s consciousness.


His eyes rolled back in his head as he collapsed into a cardboard display of Bar B Q potato chips. His body began to shake, his arms and legs flailed among the noisy garish bags. Every pulse of pain sent Conrad into convulsions, dark vomit spewed from his mouth, a trickle of blood came out his left ear. Brittle bags exploded, reddish potato chips flew into the air with every spasm. The harsh crackle of the bags, the frightened cries of the young cashier and the store manager on his cellphone calling 911 filled the small store.

Just as the manager was telling the operator he had a fifty-year-old sniff addict out of control in his store, Conrad’s body settled into stillness. His arms and legs stopped flailing, his body relaxed and, sinking into a red bed of potato crumbs, he died. Slowly, like a flower opening, his rotting fingers released the foul rag.

Though he had not remembered, Conrad turned seventeen the day before.

written January 12/03 “Sniff” won Third Prize in the Winnipeg Writer’s Collective Short Story Contest, Spring 2003. Published in Collective Consciousness May/June 2003


 Reid Dickie

“Does it hurt?”

“Yeah, at first, kinda, a little bit but it feels real good in a little while.”

“Does it hurt every time?”

“Yeah but you get used to it, kinda. You’ll see. You never stuck anything up your ass…just to see what it feels like?”

“No!” Kevin had but he wasn’t going to admit it.

“You ever sucked a guy’s dick?”

“No! Well…”

Actually that’s a lie he will admit. Dad’s brother, Uncle Trett, drunk or high or both, forced shirtless Kevin to his knees and poked his cock in the boy’s mouth when Kevin was in the garage putting the lawn mower away. He vividly remembers retching and gagging while Trett laughed and pushed his cock further into Kevin’s mouth. He was 12 at the time, two summers ago.

“Canyon will teach you everything you need to know. He’s cool. He’s deep. He’s a professional. He taught me…here he comes now.”

“Hi Canyon. This is Kevin.”

“Scram, Rootboy.”

“You bet, Canyon.”

Rootboy gives Kevin a quick sideways smile as he walks down the street past the liquor store and the bum puking on the sidewalk.

“Hey, Kevin.”

“Hey, Canyon.”

“I hate your name, Kevin, so before this day is over I’ll have a new name for you which you will use whenever you and I are doing business. Your new name will be a compound word. Got it?”

“Umm…yeah, compound word.” Kevin doesn’t sound sure.

“Meanwhile, I’m going to teach you how to take it like a man from a man, any man but still be a boy. Do you wanna learn that talent, almost-not-Kevin anymore? Is this what you want me to teach you? Is that why you want to see me?”

“Yeah. Okay.” Kevin is still uncertain, maybe.

“How old are you?”

“Sixteen,” Kevin replies, not quite fast enough.


“I’ll be fifteen in a month.”

“Better. C’mon, baby, time for lesson one.”

They could have been father and son walking together down the grimy street just past noon – Kevin in his 14-year-old body still with a touch of baby fat, as his mother used to call it before she killed herself, and Canyon, 35 years old, eight inches taller and seventy-five pounds heavier, most of it muscle, all of it hard, glancing down at the slim boy, delightful sexual immediacies dancing with dollar signs in his head.

Kevin is so nervous he thinks he’s going to throw up but he doesn’t. He hasn’t eaten since the previous afternoon and feels woozy.

“Umm, Canyon, could you buy me a burger before the lesson? I haven’t eaten since yesterday. Feeling, you know…weak.”

“After the lesson I’ll buy you anything you want, that is, if it goes well.” Canyon’s voice is deep and sonorous and scary, thinks Kevin. He’s so big, his arms are…

“I have a place here.” Canyon turns onto the steps of an apartment block built in 1920, rustles a set of keys from his pocket and lets them into the lobby. It smells of pesticides, something fried to burning and dead things under moldy carpets. Up one flight, down the hall, Canyon opens the door with number 9 painted in bright red nail polish.

It’s a small apartment with a narrow kitchen, small living room and even smaller bedroom. The bathroom is bigger than the bedroom. Canyon locks the deadbolts on the door and pockets the keys. He turns and stares at his new boy.

Kevin’s t-shirt and jeans are torn and dirty, his sneakers are the colour of mud, his long stringy not-quite-blond hair is matted, his rich brown eyes are clear so he’s not on crack…yet, and he smells of lemony body odour strongly mixed with “the way boys smell.” Normally Canyon charges extra for a smelly, dirty street boy to satisfy some master’s fetish, but today he wants a clean start with this sweet, frightened boy.

Kevin wonders if Canyon can see him shaking or if he is just quivering on the inside. It feels like an earthquake is passing though him. He stares at the large man before him whose handsome face is sectioned by a well-trimmed goatee and moustache. Kevin is physically attracted to yet fearful of Canyon.

Canyon makes the most appealing gesture Kevin has seen since he ran away from home in Squash Squander Heights. The big man stands with his arms open and welcoming for a hug. Kevin falls into Canyon’s embrace which is long, strong, soulful and sincere. Kevin hasn’t felt this wanted, this loved, this human for years, maybe ever. Tears well up in his eyes and drain onto the fabric of Canyon’s pale blue shirt leaving dark lurid splotches. Kevin smiles through his tears.

“When was the last time you had a shower, boy?”

Kevin can’t remember. He’s learned how to take birdbaths in lockable washrooms. “Don’t know.”

“You smell bad, boy, not even good bad, just bad bad. Time to get clean. We’ll get clean together, wash away our sins and start a new life, born again clean and free, amen and praise the Lordy Lord Lord Lordy. C’mon, stinkerboy. Don’t worry, that’s not your new name.” Canyon chuckles. “Stinkerboy, ha!”

Canyon walks into the bathroom, flicking on a light that creates a pleasant dim glow in the entire room. “Take off your clothes,” he says to Kevin as he unbuttons his shirt and tosses it onto a hamper.

The bathroom is spacious and includes a huge old double claw-foot tub with the taps in the centre and, in one corner, a large shower. Canyon reaches in and turns on the shower. He strips off his blue jeans and stands naked before Kevin who has just removed his t-shirt and stares at Canyon’s muscled flesh.

“Today, boy, today!” Canyon lights a fire under Kevin who finally gets into the moment and strips off his remaining clothes. The sound of the shower resonates warm and soothing through the room. Another embrace with Canyon! Kevin’s never felt anything like it in his life. His living, quivering naked flesh presses against the hard body of a man, a real man, a true man, larger than life man but real, this time, real, hard and real.

Canyon lifts Kevin slightly and kisses him hard and long on the lips. Kevin dangles in Canyon’s grip. Still clutching Kevin, Canyon takes three steps and they are in the shower. He releases Kevin who trembles under the warm gush of water. As Canyon lathers him with a bar of Irish Spring, Kevin starts to relax. Weeks of fear and longing are washed away, the uncertainty of his future feels less compelling in the steamy shower. Canyon shampoos Kevin’s long hair, which feels remarkably familiar and wholesome to the boy, like Mother. He succumbs to Canyon’s curious hands.

With every caress, every probe, Canyon is already figuring out the market value of Kevin’s young body, who among his many clients will pay the most for a smooth virgin “straight off the farm,” how many times he can pass the boy off as a virgin and how submissive Kevin might be or can be trained or coerced to be. Beyond his future cash value, Kevin possesses the fast approaching inevitability of being thoroughly trained and thoroughly enjoyed by Canyon. The prospect inflames the big man. It always does with new boys.

Stepping out of the shower and toweling each other down, Canyon says to Kevin, “From now on, pay close attention to everything I say and everything I do. This is your new streetwise education. If you want to survive out there, remember all of it.”

Kevin nods.

Three hours later, Canyon says, “Before we move on to lesson two, what say we grab a bite, Candyass?”


“Candyass. That’s my name for you, our business name. To me, you will never be Kevin again. Got it, Candyass?”

“Why Candyass?”

“Because you got the sweetest one, baby, the sweetest one.”



 Reid Dickie

Requiring little or no cream in your coffee was a badge of honour when coffee became mandatory for everyone. Bungle waged a private war within himself every time he sipped his brew black. He even eschewed sweet, though it was a radical stance; artificial sweeteners were mandatory for people under 25. Sweet and low, thought Bungle.

The media was baffled, as usual. Why were so many college age men suddenly feeling compulsions to gather around boulders and perform seemingly random rituals that involved a great deal of touching flesh to stone, dancing in slow motion and smashing their cell phones, now mandatory for everyone from birth, on the rocks? What’s going on? The media hasn’t really wanted to know the answer to that question in the last twenty years.

Let me background you on the stones. They became a trendy landscaping feature in the early part of the 2000s after cosmetic poisoning of lawns, boulevards and all grassy areas was made mandatory. Weeds were against the law. You were fined if a weed inspector found a dandelion on your lawn. That meant the grass everywhere was toxic all the time. Entire residential blocks hired cosmetic lawn poisoning companies to continuously slosh a chemical on the earth to prevent weeds of all kinds. Only green grass and some flowers were permitted.

Instead of lawns, concrete became the popular option. To add some visual relief to the cement, we used stones. Rocks didn’t need poisons and broke up the straight lines. They became such a common feature of city landscapes that businesses catered to a lunch crowd who sat on small rocks to eat off larger rocks. Every coffee shop had a few big boulders among its tables and benches. There were coffee shops on every block, often nothing but coffee shops with boulders out front or in back. It was the Stone Age but with coffee.

Bungle was working on his eleventh cup of the day as it approached two in the morning. Bungle and his buddies hung out at Win-Win Situation, a slightly sleazy coffee bar known for some “interesting” brews. The coffee boys gathered around a large granite boulder, one of the more popular stones outside Win-Win. Garnet, Loop, Fifi (a man with a dog’s name) and Bungle usually met at this boulder for their nightly howl.

Why they were continuously drawn to this spot night after night, meeting with groups of others, was utterly outside the awareness of these four young men and all the other men who, for equally inexplicable reasons, were drawn to other large stones.  What subterranean direction were these men following? What Kosmic commandment held them in its sway?

No one could explain this bizarre behaviour.

Chemicals are added to coffee to increase its addictiveness, as with cigarettes. Since the Human Genome Project mapped our DNA, everyone is vulnerable to the good and evil whims of scientists, corporations and politicians. One effective way to exploit without being discovered is to add several hundred genetic markers to products to increase their addictiveness, markers that ensure a wide gamut of human types will become further enslaved to the product. Tobacco, coffee and alcohol are the obvious places for such an experiment. But it extends into breakfast cereals, canned peaches, baby food, instant soups, soft drinks, among hundreds of other everyday products. Don’t get me started about what the greasy burger chains do with their meat!

One of the unforeseen reactions to these chemical markers is this odd behaviour in young men of a certain genetic make-up: northern European with blonde hair, blue eyes and pale complexions from Sweden, Norway, Holland, Denmark, Germany, usually very lactose intolerant.

During the “rituals”, the media showed the young men gathered in the dark, eerily lit by midnight streetlights, caressing the stones, singing wildly, incomprehensively. Dancing, entranced, in slow motion, their lithe bodies swirled around the stones, each a moving expression of his inner agony. There the media coverage usually ended. This is a heavily censored story.

Those were only the first symptoms. The second stage is stranger. At a time of their lives when most men can think about little else but sex, the coffee boys became utterly asexual. Their sex thoughts dried up, their genitals shriveled, their body hair fell out and sex became irrelevant to them. This the media never reported. Nor did they report the late stages.

The endgame began innocently enough with each taking a turn smashing his cell phone into the rocks, the plastic jabberware disemboweled and silent. It was a symbolic gesture. It’s meaning resonated only within a certain strand of the DNA, far below waking consciousness, dreaming and deep dreamless sleep. The media would give teasing glimpses of but no explanation for the heretical smashing of cell phones against the rocks. It was disturbing for people to feel someone didn’t want to be in touch with them, that there were unphoneables.

After that, the boys go “seeking the softness of the rock” and “turning to stone”; meaning they throw themselves down repeatedly with great force onto the stones. Sometimes they’d take running starts and smash their shoulders onto the stone, breaking collarbones and ribs, sometimes necks. But the usual cause of death, and most of the coffee boys died, was smashing open his skull on the rocks. You can live to do it again if your body is working on sheer instinct alone.  It cannot be done thoughtfully a second time. You no longer are able to think.

As Bungle emerged from Win-Win Situation carrying his dozener for the day, he saw his friend Fifi laying on the concrete jerking and twitching, his right shoulder a mass of blood and bone. Loop and Garnet stood wide-eyed and speechless, pointing.

Fifi’s spasms became more organized and he painfully drew himself up into a low crouch. Then he ran, as fast as he was able, into the rock headfirst. His body arched and he fell, a dead heap, blood oozing from his head in ever-decreasing pulses.

A sudden envy grew in Bungle when he saw his friend, someone he’d known for fifteen years, now prone, lifeless, delivered, an escapee. Bungle felt a need to accomplish this too, an inner drive that compelled him toward his next act, his destiny, his time.

Bungle howled one last time at the glare of the yellow sodium streetlight, put his headphones on, pushed a button and “Baby Elephant Walk” by Lawrence Welk began to play – all good music had, like weeds, been made illegal – turned it up full and sped, fleet and fair, his blonde hair streaming away, head first into the rock.

His bounce was sweet and short, he lay next to his friend. A sudden geyser of blood erupted from a growing bump on his head. Bungle had blown his top. The rock was sprayed with a fine mist of Bungle’s brains and blood. They’d still be there the next morning, dried into a red crispy peeling sheet.

If you listened carefully, you could hear the bucolic strains of Lawrence Welk still playing on Bungle’s headphones.

written August 16, 2002

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Filed under Family, Fiction

Whorls and The Unraveling – Fiction

Reid Dickie

“The ego is just the dream of the Witness, the film the Witness creates out of  its own infinite plentitude, simply so it will have something to watch at the movies.”

Ken Wilber One Taste

 “The self-contraction is a feeling of interior tension, often localized behind the eyes, and anchored in a slight muscle tension throughout the bodymind. It is an effort and a sensation of contracting in the face of the world. It is a subtle whole-body tension. Simply notice this tension.”

Ken Wilber One Taste

The stops on the westbound Corydon #18 bus route to Assiniboine Park are:






Lilac – where I get on, one gets off.

Wentworth – does not stop.

Stafford – two get off, one gets on.

I am sitting alone in a two-seater half way down the curb side of the bus. It is a hot day and the windows are bent open for the breeze. In front of me is a man with close-cropped hair. Nestled between the hairs, tiny beads of sweat glisten on his scalp. I am reflected…

Harrow – one gets off.

Guelph – does not stop.

…in every shiny bead. His hair is recently cut, the scalp is almost white. The black hair, stark against the pale skin, swirls out of a central place at the back of the man’s head. The whorl is not centred directly on the back of his head but slightly off to the upper left. Three beads at the edge of his hairline merge to form a drop of sweat that runs slowly down the back of his tanned neck and soaks into his t-shirt. I am…

Wilton – three get on.

Rockwood – one gets off.

Thurso – does not stop.

…staring into the whorl as it begins to spin. I let the spiral of black hair drag me into its vortex. It trips a mindful switch in my awareness. The force of the spin from the whorl is bringing my own self-contraction painfully to the surface, so obvious I cannot…

Cambridge E. – one gets off, two get on.

Cambridge W. – two get on.

Waverly – one gets on, one gets off.

… ignore it.  The evidence is so plain. I am fully wet, the waves have subsided and I rest now simply, here, as the wetness, evolving through and incarnated in all things. The spin from the whorl feels like electric prickles on my fingertips. My living whorls are torn from my fingertips by small tornadoes. I am…

Elm – does not stop.

Ash – does not stop.

Niagara – one gets off.

Brock – stops but wrong stop for passenger.

… who? A slow elegant wave washes behind my eyes, a massage from inside. I am prone. I am….

Campbell – two get off.

… a beach. The contraction is loosening. I am fluid as submerged sand. Tiny vortexes shuffle me along the sandy bottom. I am…

Lindsay – does not stop.

Lanark – two get off, two get on.

… an illusion between witnesses. I am…

Centennial – does not stop.

Lockwood – does not stop.

Kenaston – two get one, one gets off.

… watching. Balance gone now. Does not matter. The world is releasing me. No. I am releasing myself. No. Releasing is happening anyway and I am just tuning into it for now. And now. And now. I am…

Ubique – does not stop.

Doncaster – does not stop.

Edgeland – does not stop.

…floating. There is only Emptiness. A sense of Freedom. And  here…

Southport – does not stop.

Handsart – does not stop.

Park – one gets off.

Kelvin – does not stop.

Laidlaw – does not stop.

…another arising. Just let it arise, abide for its time then recede back into the Emptiness. That is it, just allow your uncontracted self to kick off its shoes and feel the sand between its toes. Oozing up through…

Shaftesbury – two get off.

Shaftesbury W. – one gets off.

…the sand are fresh blades of green grass that…

Zoo – everyone but me gets off.

…spread like a stain across the land, turning the dark earth into the colour of…

Zoo Loop – this is where I get off.  One gets on.


Out the back door of the bus onto the asphalt pavement, I take two steps before reaching the green grass. I take off my shoes and the earth begins to meld with me. I am rapidly dissolved up to my heart in the green shimmer of the grass. There I pause, appearing like a store display torso for a moment, before finishing my resolve to dissolve. Accomplished.

I love going to the park.


Filed under Fiction, Parks, Winnipeg

As Large As We Get – Fiction

Reid Dickie

I anticipate these family gatherings with a mixture of dread, curiosity and fascination. My parents are both dead and my wife rarely accompanies me (she’s developed a strong “distaste” for my side of the family) so I am left to fend for myself against the wall of mirrors my relatives have become, mirrors that reflect back parts of me I don’t necessarily want to be reminded of, parts that they still clung to dearly but I’ve let go of years before. I feel like I’m inviting a series of ghosts into my life, each one representing some family aspect or trait, each phantom wearing some undeniable characteristic.

Yet here I am, stepping up to my cousin’s doorbell, pausing before I press the button. I’m filled with a powerful urge to walk away, climb into my car and spend the rest of the weekend under a tree in a park away from here. Somewhere away from the memories and the pettiness, the hostile relationships between the cousins and the continuous need to be victims, always victims. If there isn’t an obvious form of hurt available, each family member goes out of his or her way to manufacture something/anything to be hard done by. That is how they operate, their method of being in the world. Not all my family is like this but the ones who aren’t no longer attend these gatherings. They have learned their lesson and grown away from the clan.

My finger hovers in the air in front of the doorbell button. I push it and a muffled chime sounds inside the house. Welcome to the world of victims. The door opens and cousin Reggie greets me.

“Will. Great to see you. Come on in.” It’s Reggie’s usual shallow, insincere greeting that he will extend to every one of the relatives that arrives.

“Hi Reggie.” I shake my cousin’s cold calloused hand and step into the foyer. Reggie’s wife Jilleen comes toward me smiling and gives me a big hug which goes on a little too long as it usually does with all of Reggie’s male cousins.

“Williston. When was the last we had you in our house?” she says taking my arm and leading me toward the living room which is lively with conversation.

“I think it was about six years ago,” I say. “After Uncle Steppie’s funeral.

“Poor old Steppie,” says Jilleen. “Poor old Steppie.”

Occupying one of the gigantic sofas in the sumptuous living room are my cousins Laurel and Lynton, between them Lynton’s boyfriend Carl. Laurel rises with difficulty due to her arthritis and gives me a short cold embrace. Lynton and Carl both hug me, Carl longer than appropriate, runs his hand over my ass as he breaks the hug.

It’s been about five years since Lynton came out of the closet to the rest of the family. I’ve known for thirty years that Lynt is gay and dutifully kept it from everyone else in the clan. I remember vividly Lynt introducing Carl as his “lover.” Aunt Frannie fainted, Uncle Frank turned away from them both and never spoke to Lynton again though before they had been close. Lynt’s acceptance by the rest of the cousin’s was mixed; about half of them didn’t care who he slept with, the other half used it as more evidence of their victimization. When invited to family get-togethers, several ask if Lynton will be there before committing to attend.

On the other sofa sits Uncle Treat and Aunt Claudia, my last remaining aunt and uncle. Both smile warmly though neither rise to hug me. Instead, I sit between them and put my big arms around their scrawny shoulders. There’s a flash and the whirr of Reggie’s camera.

“How are you dear?” asks Claudia. Not waiting for a reply, she continues, “I’m not well, you know. The operation was only partly successful and I have pain everyday. See this.” She holds her thin arm out to reveal large bruises. “I don’t know how I get bruised so badly. Treat takes care of me as well as he can but with his bum leg and shakes, he’s not much good either. Don’t get old, dear.”

I can hear a small high-pitched beeping sound I recognize as Uncle Treat’s hearing aids. Treat holds a black and white snapshot of two people standing next to an old car. He turns to me and points at the picture.

“They are all eating spaghetti,” he says. No one in the picture is eating anything.

“Never mind him,” says Claudia. “His mind is going bananas. Some days he just sits and stares out of the window all day, never moves. That’s not healthy. Did you hear that Raywall has prostrate cancer?”

She can never pronounce that word correctly. I’m the only person in the whole family who actually says ‘prostate.’ It’s one of many idiosyncrasies that once were cute and endearing but now simply annoy me. I have to restrain myself from correcting everyone, resisting writer’s prerogative.

“I hadn’t heard that. Is it serious?” I say humouring her. Raywall died in a car accident the year before.

“Very bad. He’s not going to make it.”

The doorbell rings. More victims arrive.

It’s the first of Treat and Claudia’s three children. Croot – his real name is Virgil – and his latest girlfriend Vicki receive the same phony welcome from Reggie. Croot is the oldest and most favoured child of Claudia and Treat. He seldom visits family but keeps in touch via email. Intermittently successful Croot works with computers. He was a corpulent child. Now he is an obese man who rasps with every breath. His parents rise to hug Croot and Vicki, whom none of us have ever met before. She seems to tolerate everyone, including Croot, the rest of the visit.

The doorbell chimes again. Paul, Treat and Claudia’s youngest, ten years Croot’s junior, arrives alone. Paul embraces his parents who both demonstrate indifference toward him. Tension begins to build.

As I survey the room that contains the better part of my living relatives, I wonder how I’ve become the exception to these people and their ways. Instead of sharing my wisdom that “there’s enough” these people dwell on lack and scarcity. They wallow in their suffering, spraying it forcefully, without qualms, at anyone within earshot, a continuous litany of smallness made even more pathetic due to my personal knowledge and experience of the true hugeness of our beings. Each family member leads a constant charge against any intrusion of positive energy into the fortress they’ve built to defend and replicate their suffering. Inside each fortress the glass is always half empty and someone else is at fault. Blame is always necessary and meted out even on the flimsiest of pretext. Maybe it is the utter refusal of any of them to take responsibility for their lives that bothers me the most. Or maybe it’s just the relentless familiarity of the people, their stunted evolutions worn with pride like medals after some pointless battle.

I don’t know how long I’ll be able to bear the family whine this afternoon.

Next to arrive is Sylvia and Boxer. She’s Treat and Claudia’s second born, has been married to Boxer for fifteen years and not a speck of offspring sprung from their loins. Today Boxer has his left arm in a sling and sports a shiny purple left eye. He’s a big bruiser of a man so we are all surprised by his condition.

“Did you get hit by a truck?” I ask.

“He just found a bigger bully, is all,” says Sylvia who sneers at him. Boxer nods in resignation. “You know Indians, can’t hold their booze.”

Boxer isn’t Indian, he’s from Turkey. Is my whole family getting senile?

“How are you, dear?” Claudia asks her daughter.

“Still not pregnant, if that’s what you mean.”

“But we keep trying, Mama Claudia,” says Boxer grinning and nodding his head. Claudia and Sylvia roll their eyes in unison.

Neither Croot nor Paul greet their sister.

“Gang’s all here then?” asks Lynton.

“Kaiser and his new girlfriend Quim are coming,” says Croot. Door chimes. “That’s them.”

Kaiser isn’t as obese as his father but will be someday. Quim is a petite little thing that Kaiser could break in half bare-handed. She hangs off his fat arm like a bangle. I can’t take my eyes off her. She smiles coyly at me. Kaiser could break me in half just as easily I remind myself as does Kaiser’s glare.

I’m still sitting between Treat and Claudia who tells me to move. Off the sofa I stand by the window looking out at the enormous patch of rhubarb that covers most of the side yard.

“Jilleen and me welcome everyone to our home today,” says Reggie. “What can I get youse to drink?”

Between us we list eight different beverages we’d like, none of which is tea.

“How about a lovely pot of tea instead?” suggests Jilleen sternly. Everyone nods.

“I’d still like a beer,” says Croot.

“Me, too,” I say, just to be a dink.

“Tea all around then,” says Reggie. He gestures to Lynt and Carl to help him. The pair giggles like girls and baby step their way to the kitchen.

“Are they queers?” Quim whispers to Kaiser who nods quickly. “Ugh,” she says.

“Quim. That’s an unusual name. What nationality is it?” asks Claudia.

Though for a moment it appears as if Quim is flummoxed she musters, “Um…white.”

“I thought so,” says Claudia smiling at the girl.

“I got a letter from my brother in Australia this week,” says Treat. “Where’s that letter from Martin, Mother? I want to read it out.”

Claudia rustles in a small stack of paper on the end table and draws out an envelop, hands it to Treat. He carefully pulls the letter out and unfolds it, digging his glasses from his breast pocket.

“It’s not a long letter,” Treat says.

We all know what happens next. Treat stares at the letter for an extended moment, moving his head and the letter to find focus on the words. He clears his throat.

“Dear brother Treat, I hope this missive finds you well and happy and the same for your beloved Claudia. It’s our winter now which is good because it keeps the snakes in their dens, especially the poison ones that eat children and pets. All fine here except for the scoliosis. Brotherly love, Marty. That’s his letter so he’s doing fine down under.”

We all nod and mutter how good that is knowing that Martin has been “down under” aka dead for over ten years and that Treat has slipped beyond language where words don’t make sense anymore and that he’s making up the letter like he has every time before.

What amazes me is nobody among this batch of eternal sourpusses has ever called Treat on this. It’s our family’s one gleaming illustration of grace: tolerating Treat’s dementia. Aren’t we good people, huh? It’s just temporary anyway. Be patient.

That’s as large as we get.


Filed under Family, Fiction, Humour

Steam – Fiction

Reid Dickie

She stops me in the street, starts talking about steam rising from kettle in her kitchen late in afternoon. She looks into my eyes, sees herself looking into her own eyes. She sees puzzled look on her own face in my eyes. She stops talking, laughs a little, stops and laughs again. She looks as if she’d never seen herself in someone else’s eyes before.

I ask her if steam condenses on her windows in winter. She looks at herself in my eyes, says nothing. I tell her it wipes off easy.

She looks at herself becoming her mother in my eyes. She laughs, stops, a tear rolls down her mother’s cheek as she watches herself in my eyes. Tear irrigates through wrinkles on her mother’s cheek, soak into her mother’s pores in my eyes.

When enough steam has condensed, tears form that leave blank highways through which outside is visible, window wet. Back of an old hand wipes across window. Face looks out seeing itself. Her mother’s eyes close.

Other eye shows her mother making tea by window, water boiling, boiling, tears like insects in late afternoon sun, streaming through condensation. Blank highways soak a towel and wait. Spoon clinks on sides of her cup.

Other eye, a towel is spread on a rack. Old hands hang it, smooth out wrinkles. Blank highways irrigate through glass to the outside, surface wrinkles in my eyes.

She knows blank highways like back of her hand. She looks at herself in my eyes looking at her hand, wrinkled, wet with tears. She looks back at herself.

I close my eyes and we disappear.

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Filed under Fiction

The Sin Eater – Fiction

The Sin Eater 2874 BC

Reid Dickie

The course salted acorn bread Credne had placed on the naked chest of the cadaver less than an hour before was already turning black.

“Go fetch Burstall. Tell him two chickens,” she said to her oldest child.

Gothal smiled slightly, glad to be away from the grim tableau of death and the small wailings that dominated the little shack.

“Where might he be?”

Credne shot a look at her son. “Find him,” was all she said as she got another loaf of bread. It was the last loaf, the one she’d planned to serve her family at supper, but Credne felt no remorse, no loss, nothing really. Her grief numbed her. She was grateful to have the bread at all for this sad occasion. It was no sacrifice. It was just what Spirit required.

When Gothal opened the door to the hovel, he stumbled over a small basket someone left on the step. It contained two small loaves of acorn bread. Several other anonymous baskets appeared on their stoop over the next few hours as word of the death passed from lips to ears. Credne was grateful for the gifts and the understanding each small hard loaf conveyed.

After physical death has occurred, the body requires time to release the soul and all the virtue or lack thereof and wisdom or lack thereof it has gathered during this lifetime. The deceased’s sins are also released, tainting the soul. But the sins can be sieved out by placing the most common edible in the locale, loaves of salted acorn bread, on the corpse. As the soul ascends, the bread collects the sins, cleansing the soul. However, proper disposal of the blackened bread is essential. The role of the sin eater is to devour the tainted bread, absorbing, integrating, transcending and healing each sin.

Gothal walked quickly along the mud path toward the centre of the cluster of hovels that comprised Rivertree, so named because it sat near a river and a very large, very old tree. He scanned the small marketplace. Only a few vendors had ventured out on this blustery day. The intermittent downpours, frequent lightning and thunder and wind gusts that bent the old oaks discouraged most people from leaving the relative safety of their huts.

It had been a hot pleasant midsummer. Life had been easy, but that changed when the body was found. At that hour, the wind began to howl cold and mournful and hadn’t stopped since. An ominous pall hovered over the tiny community, a chimera of death felt by everyone including Gothal. He shivered and pulled his coarse wool wrap tighter around his thin frame.

Gothal made some quick inquiries of the merchants. Coutha, who sold live chickens and dead fish, shook her head at his query. Balcoot, earless and fingerless due to past indiscretions, sat before a pathetic array of wilted wet vegetables. He sneered at Gothal’s question and shooed the boy away with what remained of his right hand.

Gothal never liked talking with Clarank but he knew if anyone could locate Burstall, it would be Clarank. Horrified by the gelatinous appearance of Clarank’s eyes – they appeared to drip out of the sockets – but compelled to stare at them, Gothal asked him about Burstall.

Clarank moved his jaw to indicate speech but all Gothal heard was a sound like two stones being rubbed together. He listened more intensely and began to hear small fractured words in the grinding racket. The message was distant but clear.

“You will find him in the grove at the point of fear.”

Gothal didn’t like the sound of that. He’d hoped Burstall would be lurking somewhere in the little market but it was logical he was in the dense oak grove that surrounded the small band. Today Gothal dreaded the oak grove.

A cold wind howled through the gnarled trees straining faint foul laughter from their branches as Gothal walked deeper into the forest.

Since most people at Rivertree feared Burstall, hunting for him in the forest would not be enjoyable. The only person who felt comfortable in Burstall’s unpredictable powerful presence now lay stretched naked and dead on a plank table.

Though freed from the macabre scene at home, Gothal’s fear of Burstall quickened as he trudged among the old trees. The lad whistled tunelessly to help relieve the growing tightness in his body. Wind ripped the jagged notes from his lips and dissolved them in the swirling air. He hoped Burstall would suddenly spring from behind a tree and end this nerve-wracking quest.

At 14, Gothal’s role as eldest child kept him occupied tending his five younger siblings and 24 sheep. Usually he liked the responsibility; in fact, he thrived and grew with the experience. But he dreaded the role he had to play today, that of seeker of the shaman.

Suddenly something wet, hot and furry struck him on the side of his head, fell onto his shoulder where it teetered spurting thick liquid. Bits of intestine clung to Gothal’s hair. Wiping his face his hand came back covered in blood. Its source was a newly eviscerated rabbit, its throat opened, blood pulsing forth.

With disgust, Gothal pushed the rabbit away from him as a cruel, inhuman laugh rose from between two hoary oaks. From the trees Burstall’s bright piercing blue eyes peered from beneath a nest of long hair that waved back and forth, changing hue as it swayed. The obscured eyes, animated hair and mean chortle transfixed Gothal.

“He’s dead,” offered Gothal feebly.

“I know.”

“Mama, she be Credne, asked for you to eat the bread for him. She said two chickens.”

Burstall’s eyes brightened at the prospect. “Suddenly I feel hungry. Lead the way scrawny boychild.”

With his instinctual forest homing device working to perfection, Gothal navigated the darkening oak grove with ease and accuracy arriving at home quickly.  Burstall walked the whole way two steps behind him, breathing hard and muttering in some strange language, which frightened Gothal into imagining Burstall was going to kill him and eat him. Their quick arrival in early twilight was a great relief for the boy. There was another basket of acorn bread on the stoop when the pair arrived.

“Here. Skin this.” Burstall tossed the slain rabbit he’d been carrying to Gothal. “You stay out here,” Burstall said taking the boy’s head in his hands and forcing their eyes to meet. “Do you know who you are?”

Gothal understood, suddenly and inexplicably, he understood. As soon as he said, ‘Yes,” he felt a great weight lift off his young shoulders. He smiled at Burstall. “Thank you.”

Burstall was taken aback by the boy’s gratitude and comfort in his presence. He smiled back at the boy, releasing his head. “I’m not going to eat you, by the way.”

A shrill keening laugh erupted from Burstall’s face, which transformed into a huge gaping mouth with flapping teeth and bright yellow tongue. Gothal jumped away and fell on his back, which brought Credne to her door.

“Not so comfortable now scrawny boy?” Burstall leered down at the boy.

“Leave Gothal alone. He’s in here,” Credne said matter-of-factly to Burstall whose attention shifted away from Gothal to the open door of the shack.

The shaman plucked a little rattle made of two walnut shells and small stones from his tattered cape. He shook the rattle from inside his closed fist with just a small opening at his thumb letting sound escape. He pointed the sound toward the open doorway, rattling continuously as he approached.

Credne had lit two small candles and a glowing butter lamp, the only illumination in the small room dominated by the dead man. Burstall’s rattle caused the candles to flicker wildly as he crossed the threshold. He whistled through his teeth and waved his rattling hand directing the small stinging sound toward the corpse.

The body appeared to be mottled with large black growths. In fact, Credne had kept applying loaves as they appeared at her door. One balanced on the forehead, three on the chest, two on the belly and two on the abdomen, one on each thigh. Ten loaves, all of them blackened, most covered with a fine shimmering mold that ran from glittering emerald to iridescent blue. So adorned were the remains of Recorso.

Recorso means “always returning to a state of grace.” The one who bears the name sustains that state within the band. With the death of Recorso, grace is loose, its magic is free, possibly even unavailable to the band, which has always been guided by grace. Special rituals need to be performed to ensure the succession of grace occurs smoothly.

The sin eater knew what to do.

Credne pointed toward six more loaves on a stool near the body. Burstall took two of the loaves and placed them over Recorso’s genitals. Almost immediately, the bread began to blacken. Burstall made an eerie delighted sound that frightened Credne, which was its intent.

“You will get out of this house now. I need time alone for this. Take your children and go into the forest and wait until you hear three wolves howling in unison three times then you can come back here and he’ll be all yours. Take two of those loaves and get away quickly.”

“How long?” Credne inquired.

“With smiling spirits, two days. Leave the chickens…and the boy.”

written November 11, 2009

   The Sin Eater 1979 AD

Reid Dickie

After chasing off an emaciated cur that came sniffing at the meat, a man with two fingers missing from each hand hung freshly skinned goats on large hooks at his stall in the central market in Old Delhi. My friend Murta and I strolled through the heady mix of smells, sights and sounds. The smog-filtered sun gave a yellow hue to the muggy haze. The back of my shirt was soaked with sweat.

Boom boxes blasting popular Indian music competed with the sounds of ducks and chickens, goats bleating, chiming bicycle taxi bells, the hollers of vendors, the pleas of beggars and the din of shoulder-to-shoulder people. Commingling in the market air was a rich brew of odours from cooking food, animal feces, a thousand kinds of curry, strange smoldering fires, sewage, incense and the aromatic crush of raw humanity. Now and then, the crowd and the air were split by the loud incessant honking of a car horn as a shiny black Mercedes, its windows tinted dark, inched its way through the throng. As we left the market we could hear drumming accompanied by the occasional loud crack of a whip.

Adjacent to the market was one of many temples to Siva. In front of the temple, a large crowd had gathered, giving wide berth to a young man wearing a soiled loincloth who wielded a long leather whip with amazing elegance, expertise and speed. He had a small chin beard with a red glass bead braided into the end. His black hair, tied in a knot that rested at the nape of his neck, shone against his skin.

Two other young men beat drums at the edge of the circle. They accented their drumming with hoots, yowls, whistles, growls and laughter. Every sharp, startling snarl of the whip incited them to drum a little faster.

With breath-taking skill and sensuality, the man danced with the whip. It gently entwined itself around his body leaving nary a mark then spiraled away wild and dangerous, its loud snap echoing off the walls of the temple. His dance slowed to transfixed weaving. He extended his arm, the whip cracked and the tip tore away a small piece of his forearm. A bead of blood appeared in the wound, his face twisted into a grimace. The drummers increased the beat and his dance resumed, more frantic and intense, the whip his willing partner. His steps became wild and flying, clouds of pale dust rose around his bare feet. The snap end of the whip raised a small explosion of dirt wherever it hit the ground.

The dancer’s grimace melted into calmness and finally bliss as he swirled and leapt with his long thin friend. A trail of blood rolled down his arm. The next snap of the whip dug a piece out his chest just above his left nipple. The blood flowed freely down his chest and belly, soaking into the stained loincloth. His face was a mask of agony once more. He momentarily arched away from the pain then appeared to embrace it, live it fully and integrate it into his dance, into his being.

To my Western sensibilities, this galvanizing display seemed a form of madness. I flinched breathlessly at every invited wound because I was only able to observe the outer structure of the ritual. The inner meaning remained a mystery. Every time the whip cut into the man’s flesh, Murta glanced at me to gauge my reaction.

The drummers beat louder and faster, their cries mixed with the shouts of the dancer.  His feet and body moved in abandon, the whip appeared to be controlling him. By degrees, after every cruel bite, the agony on his face changed to ecstasy. With measured intent, suffering transformed into the inner experience of transcendence.

The man’s brown body bore many whip wounds; some healed to pale blemishes, some to redness and the start of a scar, others with fresh dark scabs in various stages of healing. The drummers also had numerous scars and scabs on their bodies from encounters with the whip.

The dancer was oblivious to the crowd that gathered to watch. Another crack of the whip and a rose of red blood blossomed on the front of his thigh. He limped for two steps, the dance and the drums ate his agony once more. His arm was aglisten with blood, his torso had spattered lines around it from the movement, and the front of the breech was damp red. His leg grew a long red tattoo to his ankle that left shiny blood beads on the dry ground. His leaps got higher, his cries more blissful as the whip flew and its static cut the air. He opened a wound on his shoulder blade and another on the calf of his right leg. His eyes were shiny with pain; his raw flesh bore the marks of agony.  He was traveling with the pain. It was his companion, his catalyst. The body, pain and all, transcended.

His brown face cracked into a beatific smile and his eyes cleared, no longer glassy but witnessing transformation. Like Dionysus, he spun in the dirt, the whip and the flesh disappeared in a blur. The drumming became furious; the crowd participated in the wildness with whistles, yells and shouts of their own. Several horned goats, as transfixed as the crowd, bleated wildly at the edge of the circle. Murta said the dancer probably wouldn’t open more wounds. She was right.

The drumming stopped and the dancer stood motionless in the centre of the circle, his whip limp and benign in the dirt. Blood trickled in leisurely rivulets down his body. A wailing cheer went up from the crowd and they began tossing coins toward the bleeding man. The drummers scurried about collecting the money, carrying it in their inverted drums and offering gestures of gratitude to the crowd. As the crowd dispersed, several merchants with shops near the temple brought out food and water to give to the trio.

“Are you all right? You look a little freaked out.”

“A little. Tell me what we just witnessed, Murta?” I asked.

“Okay. The dancer is a sin eater. Are you familiar with the term?”

“Not specifically.”

“He is following an old, old tradition where a man, by inviting pain to himself, experiencing it fully and dancing it into ecstasy, accomplishes the transformation of suffering into bliss. As a result, his immediate community – those witnessing the event – is spared that suffering. He has eaten their sins and in return for this service, the spectators and the nearby merchants pay him in coin and food.”

“He suffers so they don’t have to,” I said.

“Exactly. He’s transcending his body and his mind. He is really dancing with his spirit, the whip is a symbol of spirit but it’s also the connection that joins body and spirit.”

“Jesus suffered so Christians wouldn’t have to. He ate their sins,” I said.

“The only differences are cultural. We just witnessed a more hands-on approach that most Christians wouldn’t find acceptable or comfortable. The distance between Christian Communion and goatboy with his whip is great only in its level of comfort for the participants. In the ritual of spilling blood and rending flesh, sanitized and made safe for modern Christians, no blood donation required. Just sip the wine, taste the wafer and try not to think about cannibalism,” Murta said.

“That is the ancient root of Communion, the human sacrifice, eating our own.  Christianity proclaimed we don’t have to keep going through this all the time because Jesus Christ did it for us in One Big Sacrifice.”

“The Lamb of God. And goatboy? What did the Christians make of him with his little horns? Satan, of course.”

“Since you are familiar with the dancer’s intent, how do you feel now?” I asked.

“I have known people who, witnessing a sin eater, don’t see flesh or movement at all. They only experience the direct connection to the Divine the dancer has created. That’s how I feel in my own personal way. With the dancer’s help, I’ve been touched by the Divine. And you?”

“A little queasy.”

While Murta and I stood talking, I noticed the drummers were cleaning the dancer’s wounds with urine and a poultice made of chewed leaves. The dancer was standing, filled with energy, his smiling face lit with a transcendent glow.

Several goats sauntered up gazing at the trio with huge glassy eyes. One began flicking drops of the dancer’s blood out of the dirt into its mouth with its tongue.

written spring 2002. 

“The Sin Eater” was selected as a Top Ten Finalist in the 2002 Eden Mills Writer’s Festival Short Story Contest


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