Category Archives: Writer’s Life

12 Days of Christmas 2015 – Day Five Fiction

The fiction I have written has tended toward short stories, due in part to there being a better likelihood I will know when the story is finished; anything larger attracts doubt, difficulty and potential for dangling dénouements. That said I recently finished, yes actually finished, a novel of several hundred pages and proportions. Writing Play the Jukebox (it’s fourth and final working title) was among my life’s most rewarding experiences. Getting lost in the lives of dozens of fresh beings for eighteen months then coming out the other side covered up in aces I am confident the thing is finished. I look forward to my editor’s comments and my responses to them. Writing Play the Jukebox (it’s fourth and final working title) was among my life’s most rewarding experiences. Getting lost in the lives of dozens of fresh beings for eighteen months then coming out the other side covered up in aces is hard to diminish.

There are two dozen short stories on my Fiction page. In Panic Don’t Panic I take you right down to the concrete on the streets of Winnipeg and introduce some of its denizens.


Panic Don’t Panic from Fiction page

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.


Filed under 12 days of christmas 2015, Fiction, Old Souls, Winnipeg, Writer's Life

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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Filed under Fiction, Writer's Life