Monday 27 July 2015

Excerpt from Existing Novel: "Lune"

A New Arrival
Cracked palms. Blueblack fingers. Jean Comeau gripped the axe by its frosty handle and brought it down against a trunk of perfect granite. The cedar’s sap was still frozen, but the spring thaw was on its way and it wouldn’t be long before the season’s first timbers floated millward down the nearby river. Jean’s puffing face and ursine body might have struck onlookers as clumsy or even dull-witted. But he was in fact a formidable scholar of Christian scripture and the most skilful hewer within thirty kilometres of the Albertville timber camp. His task was to mount the trunks of felled trees and hack them into square timbers, measuring his cuts with nothing more than his fierce, discriminating eyes. Despite this skill, though, most men in the timber camp looked on Jean Comeau with a mixture of resentment and fear. The man took a furious pride in his power to hew away nature’s mistakes, and it did not matter whether he saw these mistakes in timber or in his fellow men.
Forty feet to Comeau’s right stood a young teamster who observed with folded arms as each of Jean’s strokes split more bark from the frozen tree. The boy tried to keep his face grim against the sawtoothed cold. It was his first winter working at the timber camp and he was eager to prove himself to men like Comeau. He’d spent his childhood in a one-room shack farther south on the river, where a life of malnourishment had filled him with veneration for the thickbearded timbermen who laboured near his home. He admired most those nimble river-drivers who danced across the springtime logs that often buoyed within perfect view of his home’s only window. Poverty had cursed him with a humiliating lack of equilibrium, and he had recognized at a young age that he would never acquire the grace needed to negotiate the boneshattering logjams that still claimed the limbs and lives of so many better men.
Like his body, the young man’s mind lacked balance. It stumbled from thought to thought unable to stand upon any concept for long before the thing would slip out from underneath him. Ideas pounded through his skull like a swelling river, jamming one moment and bursting forth the next. On gloomy afternoons like this, the boy felt spiteful toward men like Monsieur Comeau and found pleasure only in the fleeting moments when it seemed as though the old man had split his tree too deeply. But Comeau never took long to wipe away his mistake, along with the boy’s frostbitten sneer.
A lone crow landed between Comeau and the young man, gargling its stark caw. Both men turned toward the bird as it dug a pit in the powder and fluttered its wings, scattering snow over its head. The young man glanced back up and froze to find Monsieur Comeau holding him with glittering eyes—
He bathes himself in the Lord’s melting ice, Comeau said, jabbing his axe toward the bird. And he yearns like all living creatures to cleanse himself of the blackness that never washes away. Comeau paused and waited for the young man to complete his thought, as though the proper reply were evident.
Until kingdom come, sir.
Comeau shook his head and sunk his axe again into the felled tree.
The young man watched and waited until Comeau had finished. When the moment arrived, the young man stepped forward and presented Monsieur with a wet piece of caribou meat that he’d fished from one of his coat’s filthy pockets. Comeau took the purple pulp without a word and began working through its fatty sinews.
You would like to learn my trade, Comeau said while chewing.  
Yes, sir.
It is a difficult skill and there are many things to know about these woods. I do not know everything about this world, son, nor do I hope to. Comeau scanned the surrounding forest and snapped his eyes back onto the boy. But what you can know with certainty is the word of God, which contains more knowledge than any schoolhouse ever will.
The younger man could only nod.
Comeau snorted a shard of frozen mucus and swallowed. You cannot know everything, he added. But you can know everything that is important.
The young man grimaced. In all his years of Sunday church and daily devotion he’d never heard his parish priest or even his Monseigneur speak with the kind of stony certainty Comeau did. The young man craved that same kind of assurance and began to fantasize about reading the Bible, becoming as impenetrable as the man who stood before him. He glimpsed a horizon within reach, a meeting of earth and sky that promised to steady his trembling mind and banish uncertainty and fear from his soul forever. Jean Comeau could all but hear the young man’s thoughts.
Make Him your rock, boy, for He is a perfection that no axe will ever split. Once you know Him, you will know Truth.
The young man smiled childishly. He met the black, searching pupils of Monsieur Comeau and felt his hands warm against the cold.
Everything that happens is supposed to happen, he said.
Why haven’t you been working this past half-hour?
The question struck the young man like a blow. The river in his mind thawed and surged wildly over its banks.
Sir, I—
Comeau glared.
I was part of the team that cut down this tree. The young man pointed to the hewn log at Comeau’s feet.
 You did not cut down a tree, boy. You cut down a cedar. Crude words are for crude minds.
But sir. You just said that everything I need to know is in the Word of God. Why scold me for such a small mistake? Where in the Bible does it say the difference between a tree and a cedar?
Comeau sprang from the snow and cuffed the boy so hard that his ears rang and his tongue tasted metal.
 You are just standing about and not working, boy. That is sloth. You have also questioned one of your elders, which is vanity. What other mortal sins do you plan on committing this afternoon?
The young man rubbed his ear and turned to slink back to the cabins of his timber camp, confused tears standing in his eyes. The glowing coals of Comeau’s gaze burned into his back as he went. The young man knew that some of the burlier men at his camp would have tried to return the old man’s blow. But he could not forget the stories he’d heard about Comeau when he first arrived into the timber camp – stories that told of Comeau beating the fiercest teamsters to the edge of death. The young man disappeared into the forest like a lost child and never saw Comeau again.

Sunday 26 July 2015

"A Different Kind of Friend": Excerpt #2

You might think I’m being a bit of a bully. But why shouldn’t I be, after the stuff you’ve done to me over the years? Oh that’s right; you barely remember. You probably can’t even recall those feelings that came over you when you did what you did. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that nothing came over you. You saw an opportunity to do something to me, and when you reached back into your mind for that part of you that was supposed to stop you, it just wasn’t there. I can see you now, waking from the whole thing hours later as though something had possessed you and then vanished without a trace. As though the real you had gone away for a while.

The hard part is that those kinds of episodes only happen once or twice a year at most, which is just long enough for you to convince yourself that they won’t happen again. But you know what? I honestly don’t blame you, because you don’t deserve blame. Blame is something a person has to earn.

You’re probably getting impatient by now. You want me to make a beginning, because there’s only so long I can expect you to hang around if I keep going on like this.

So why don’t we go back to when you were a kid? Why don’t we start with you and your childhood companion Roddy heading into the woods behind your family home? Why don't we start with the sound of cicadas ringing in the trees?

No? You don’t want to start there? I figured. But rest assured that we’ll get back there eventually. After all, you’re the one who spent years thinking that what happened in those woods would somehow explain everything that came  afterward. That was just a fantasy like everything else. But yes, we’re still going to get back to those woods eventually.

Let’s begin with you heading off to university. I think it would be fitting if we made a beginning by going back to your first false epiphany – at least the first one you can remember. It was your freshman year, and somehow you thought you could spend the rest of your life offering pure, godlike love to everything in existence. Maybe you read a book on Zen Buddhism and missed the point – but that’s okay because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re that age. Let’s start with you sitting cross-legged on your dormitory bed, staring into some book that suddenly made you feel as if you’d finally figured everything out, that made you believe with every cell in your body that universal, all-encompassing love was not only possible but inevitable. Let’s go ahead and play out what happened afterward.

I honestly understand that you might not want to make a beginning from your own life. You’d probably prefer it if I told some story that might distract you from it all. But I can’t do that and you don’t really want me to do that. Some part of you knows that you owe me, so I’m going to ask that part of you to step forward for a while as I make a beginning.  

Saturday 25 July 2015

Excerpt from "A Different Kind of Friend"

You know me.

You fucking know me.

Or maybe you don’t. At least not anymore. Hell, a person spends that many years trying to forget someone and they’re bound to have a little success. At least I’d like to hope so. Wouldn’t you? I’m not talking about the forgetting part. I mean the success part. It’s nice to think you’re entitled to some level of success if you try hard at something for long enough. But listen to me now, rambling like an idiot. All of this is to say that you know me. At least you should.

You probably don’t remember the first time you met me, and I don’t blame you. Few do. But there’ve been times when you looked me straight in the eye and spoke to me, sometimes through a haze of gin or in one of those moments when you were so fucking down you were thinking of ending it all. I was there, and you knew me then.

There were so many times you thought things were getting better, that you were getting better. You’re such a sucker for fantasy. Always so quick to think, Oh geeze, if I could just get to point “X” I’d be happy. Of course you know that’s a pathetic lie. But here’s something you probably don’t know. I feel for you. I honestly want you to find something in all of this. But don’t ever expect me to wish you happiness. That’s one thing I’ll never do, because happiness is impossible and wishing you happiness would only make me an enabler. I’m not here to point you down the same old empty road that’s always led you back to this place. I’m a different kind of friend.

You spend so much time these days coming up with all these bullshit ideas about who you are. Sometimes you think so highly of yourself it’s sickening, and of course those moments are always offset by the ones where you think you’d be better off dead. But the warm, hypothermic truth is that you’re not anyone or anything in particular, and even if you were it wouldn’t matter.

Do you remember the time you were chatting up that guy at Boondoggles? He asked you if you were afraid of dying, and you told him you assumed you’d already died years before.

The word patience comes from the same root as the word passion. I’m going to need you to think about that for a while.