fire drill

One of those things that's been on my computer desktop too long that the internet gives a home to. I never could figure out the punctuation in this thing, and the experimentation with tense is...something. May you live in digital perpetuity short story.


A fire drill begins when the siren hidden at the top of the tall wooden tower by the river starts to howl. Worried about surprise attacks the village council runs drills at least twice a year and long ago installed a siren that no one could ignore; before its sound even reaches your ears you feel a pinch to your spine, right at the bottom, then something cold raking through your lungs. It’s like the village trapped an ancient demon - with who knows what black magic - chained it in the tower, and whenever there is cause for alarm someone stabs at it with a hot iron to make it scream. Whether you’re sweeping, talking to the butcher or lying in bed alone in the darkest part of the night, when you hear the siren they say it’s your civic duty to run to the river and safety. No second thoughts.
     My first memory of the siren, or anything, is from when I was three. I am in the village nursery stacking wooden blocks that are painted different colours. I have them stacked in an impressively tall eight-block tower but when the siren hits I knock them over in my attempt to run away. Then I’m off the ground, held tightly and struggling against adult arms, desperate to escape the swarm I feel but can’t see around me.
Everyone runs when they hear the siren, but a child’s uneducated response is to run away from the noise and the river, into the fields that surround the village. I learned quickly though and soon knew where to run, I knew that the river and full submersion promised safety. Another memory, this time I’m six years old, everything is harried and loud but the drill feels less chaotic because I know what is expected of me. I hide my fear and churning stomach, trying to match the somber faces that surround me, as all the village children run for the water.
     I’m nineteen now and still feel a bit sick when the siren starts, but I know that when I run I feel better. It’s gotten so I don’t even think anymore, my muscles twitch, adrenaline hits and I’m flying. Full out running is the best. Sometimes when I’m pushing myself hard my head and body don’t even feel like they’re moving. It’s as if they’re floating above the street surrounded by a churning blur of arms and legs. I don’t look down but like to imagine my feet - invisible because of the speed - exerting a huge force for the instant they actually touch the ground. They tug at the earth’s surface, causing it to bunch and wrinkle far away, at the tasseled edge of the pan-global rug. There’s no strategy to it, or pacing, just run as fast as you can. And if you run so fast that breathing gets ragged, steps heavy and grey dots are swirling in your eyes by the time you reach the river, that’s a good thing. I like that feeling, knowing I really ran and didn’t pace myself. The oblivion of top speed is bliss.
     The first time I saw grey dots I was eleven and with my best friend Theodore on a lumpy field outside of the village. Rocky and full of scrubby plants, no one has tilled it in years. I remember walking into the beige late-afternoon landscape looking for lizards. Everything feels dead, or is just waiting in stasis for the start of the winter rains. Behind a far-off hill I see a flash of orange, then the siren’s call distracts me and I run. But something else is there, chasing me; I can feel it screaming above the siren. I’m moving very fast, winging through the village, past my home, the temple and the market, and now dancing dots are in my eyes. They congeal into a ring around my vision and march inward. I can see the river but it’s grey, my world is grey, then black. In the darkness I am somewhere else, I think. On the edge of a great gaping maw that is slowly and secretly swallowing the world. I want to run and yell, warn my family and friends, but slip instead and fall into the black. In the real world I hit water and the terrifying mouth is replaced by wet shock and cold. Teddy hadn’t kept up but from behind saw me catch my toe on something a few meters out from the river. He said I stumbled and lunged, he thought I would fall for sure, but I somehow kept my feet beneath me until the water cut into my shins. It was January and the riverhead is in the mountains to the north so the water was very cold.
Usually when you run to the river you’re aiming to get in at the bowl, a natural bend beside the siren tower that’s been worked over the centuries - widened and deepened - to provide safe haven for the whole community. There’s a pier and a shallow area for wading, but during a drill people are only concerned with sliding in up to their necks. I spent a lot of time in the bowl when I was young, talking with my family, wetting my hair, shivering and looking skyward with everyone else. When that got boring I’d inspect my pruned hands or watch my clothes float around my submerged body then cling tightly when I stood or lifted an arm. If you stand out of the water before the all clear sounds you get yelled at.
If you’re away from the bowl, or just don’t want to be around people, there are other places to get wet of course. I call my favourite spot the lagoon. A steep bank and brambles hide its landward edge and a false shore with piles of muck and sharp-edged bulrushes do the same from the river, so unless you know where to look you won’t find it. It’s private, quiet and, if the time ever comes, I hope deep enough.
Three years ago in August I was near the lagoon when an alarm sounded. August is normally hot but that year the air felt heavier, weighing on the whole village, turning everyone and the milk sour. I left a village meeting that day where people with the sweat for it were arguing about some new edict. It was boring and I was hot so bought myself an icy treat from an old man named Piotr. He makes them in his cellar using ice he harvests from the mountains in winter then stores. When the siren sounded I was close to the lagoon so ran there and even managed to get my frozen snack through the mud sort of clean. No one had ever been in the lagoon with me before and, distracted by my melting treat, I didn’t notice Katia. She startled me when she asked for a taste, then sat waiting quietly on a moss-covered rock near the shore while I swam to her.
Katia was two years older than me and as much a stranger as is possible in our village. I knew her parents had died when she was very young, no one ever said how, and that she was quickly becoming one of the village’s best weavers. That afternoon we talked a long time, our conversation filled with pauses that sat on the water until they dissolved or sank. I swam some while Katia stayed on her rock. She didn’t like getting wet and explained that she came into the lagoon via a bramble-arched tunnel she’d found. Later when we heard the all-clear I squeezed onto the rock beside her to better hear what she was asking. “Does the siren scare you? It’s meant to mean safety but whenever it starts I just want to cry. Lie down wherever I am, curl into a ball and cry until I burn. Or whatever.” She laughed then, long and gentle. The laughter arrived slowly, floated then drowned. It sounded like crying. “Just drills,” she laughed. “Always drills.” I nodded and told her how the siren brought me close to puking sometimes, then explained how running so fast my brain slowed and my vision blurred always set me right. I suggested she try swimming.
The lagoon was still around us and she leaned into me. I put my wet arm around her. Katia looked at me, then out past our bulrush cordon to the distant mountains and through them. I was going to ask her what she saw beyond the edges of the world, but the sun moved and she kissed me while the day’s shadows were repainted across the water and our floating clothes. When it was dark we crawled through the bramble tunnel and went to our homes. Katia left the village soon after, apparently - despite rumours of banishment - with the council’s blessing, and I never saw her again.
Last week when the siren sounded, I turned to the river and twisted my ankle. No high-speed, earth-tugging run for me. I didn’t feel sick as I hobbled my way to the bowl though, safe and not aflame. Once there I spent more time underwater than normal, enjoying a different view of the world. I watched the sky dance and shimmer, warped by ripples, and bubbled laughter when my four-year-old cousin appeared above me waggling his tongue, only to be scolded by his mother for standing up. “Up to your neck!”
That day reminded me of something from when I was very young, from before the incident with the blocks. Was I less than one? Is a memory even possible at that age? It’s all a bit muddled. I am floating in the bowl then suddenly held underwater by strong arms. I am still looking up when an enormous green shadow darkens everything. Noise and commotion, but it is muffled and distant. Then the shadow is gone, torn apart by a violent slash of red-orange flame screaming across the water. It burns the world. And that’s it, my only experience with a dragon in real life. But like I said the memory is hazy and, I realized recently, similar to a picture book I read a lot when I was younger. Maybe I’ve never actually seen a dragon.


March 2010

Empties to Beer Store.
Bike (not walk) to Honest Ed's
Kensington shopping
Dave also in the area.
Coffee (too full)
Park (too full)
See friends
Sit in Park
Friends also planning to sit in park.
Lady points out white squirrel.
Carriage break down.
Successful repair.
Part ways
Feel good about life and with a story to tell.


Tony Ho - Dissection

I had surgery a week ago tomorrow. To celebrate, let's watch a video about cutting bodies that I helped produce.


Evil in the Woodlands

I think I wrote a first draft of this in high school...maybe. It was published in the university newspaper in my first or second year. I am VERY political, but I couldn't tell you what about.


If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Does it really matter if it makes a sound? Does anyone care? After all, it's only a tree, a tree that produces oxygen for us to breathe, a tree that gives us shade from the fiery heat of the sun, even cools the air. Are there not other trees to do these things? Wasn't nature just taking its course and removing an old tree? Yes, of course it was, but what if a man had cut the tree down, cut it down to use for lumber after it had supplied its share of oxygen and shade for many years? Isn't he just continuing its use for the better? Not according to some, the kinds of people who would rather lie in the middle of the road, risking life and limb, than let a lumberjack continue a tree's usefulness.

So a tree falls naturally and no one cares. Except for the squirrel who has just lost a sleeping place, and also happened to be sitting under the tree at the time of the accident. He'd care, but only for a second, for the brief moment before life was forced from him as a whoosh of air, and a tangled mass of limbs fell around and on top of him. CRUNCH! Would anyone hear that sound, a sound far smaller than the possible din of the tree?

That's a good point. If a squirrel gets crushed in the forest will it make a sound? Will anyone notice? Will anyone really care? A squirrel's just a squirrel, nothing important like a tree, a tree that has just committed murder by crushing the squirrel. Yes, full-blown, cold-blooded murder of the very creature whose ancestors could have carried the seed to plant the tree. This tree has killed, and yet people flock to save the remaining forest. What's to stop those trees from killing other innocent squirrels? Nothing, that's what. And yet people don't understand; they don't see the maliciousness of trees as they seek to destroy squirrels and other woodland creatures. The good lumberjacks try to put the trees towards a useful purpose before they have a chance to kill, but too often their paths are blocked by dazed tree-huggers.

So, if a tree falls in the forest, and it hits a fanatical, tree-hugging, lunatic will it make a sound? Probably. Will the other wild-eyed and obviously confused environmentalists hear it and realize the trees have turned on them? Probably not. Will they see their misguided ways and change before it's too late, or will they ignore their comrade's end and continue to save this enemy of squirrel and man alike? Who knows? Only time, will tell.

Now about baby seals...


atlas collection

"Let me have a look at your car." What does this man want to see my car for.
"I don't have a car."
"How about your office, would that be all right?"
My office? I don't have an office. There is a desk in my bedroom.
"I don't have an office"
"Where do you work then?"
"Well there's a desk in my bedroom."
"Okay, we can start with that."
"I'd rather, oh! It's a bit messy with paper and things all over. And the walls, I haven't hung everything yet. You're going up the stairs. I don't really want you to, oh shit."
The man mounts the stairs to the attic bedroom, rounds the corner at the top and stops. Atlases. They are wedged around the room, against the wall behind the furniture and amongst other atlases, the ceiling and the floor. The earth pressed flat and repeated into an over-literal meditation on parallel worlds."Planning a trip?"
James catches up, too out of breath for the number of stairs he just climbed. "No, just atlases."
"But why so many?"
James manoeuvres into the room, past the man, until he stands between him and the books. With the worlds at his back he stands tensed and ready and forgets to breathe until his face glows red. "No reason. There was a sale at the Salvation Army. You don't need a reason to buy atlases."
"And if you had to move, would you get rid of some?"
James looks behind him and considers the atlases, his desk and unmade bed, just a mattress on a boxspring on the floor, and the pieces of paper on everything. He turns to answer, but the man is gone. On the wall near where he was standing James notices a photograph of a cow he took while in France. He couldn't remember hanging it.


spring coffee

I'm cleaning out the folder I created while taking a creative writing class a few years ago. This story is probably the most bummer one I've found so far.


Cratered by disbelieving feet, the slush lay across and around the ice rink, amazing what a difference a few degrees make. Only the day before, in golden winter light, blades had slashed across the rink’s solid surface, hard and fast in the cold, sounding clean, people’s breath clouding their faces for an instant before disappearing. Today though, all the breath had reappeared as numbing mist, flattening the day's light and sound. Heavier drizzle, not quite rain, falling through the grey air adding static, like somewhere someone had left a very large set of headphones slightly unplugged.

One of the local cool kids, John or DJ SoundSauce depending on context, slunk past the rink. His feet were soaked, his shoes, salt-stained and deformed by the season, were of no use as every step brought a puddle. He pulled himself deeper into his pressed wool pea coat but damp air knows secret passages through a jacket and he shivered as he squelched on. John held fire in his hands, but only enough to singe his lungs without warmth and add fresh smoke to his acrid jacket. All night spent in dank underground windowless clubs, cinder block walls holding out smoking laws, where people danced in the face of sleep as John spun and spun through an unknown dawn’s sad light, his being stank and his skin held the grey translucence of the world around him.

The damp air made hard things unreal. A car burst past without warning. Blasting its horn. Splashing through a puddle its red metal a sudden scarring contrast to the day. Cursing the driver, John stood bedraggled and dripping in front of the coffee shop, 9 am and it was closed. According to a note on the door it had never opened that morning due to a family emergency. Sorry, in the red ink of a Sharpie alongside a bright smiley face. John felt mocked by the grin as he shivered on the sidewalk considering sleep, Adderall and whether delirium tremens was only an alcohol thing or if caffeine was incriminated in some way. Looking down, someone had found coffee that morning. An empty white paper cup tossed away and floating in the dirty morass, a thin brown stain at the bottom holding none of the flavour and aroma John craved.