One on One Excerpt

The hockey questionnaire was the subject of lunch conversation the next day, the guys arguing over hockey’s greatest players. Gerry leaned towards Sean. “So far this year, I think K.J. and Rudy have been my biggest inspirations,” he joked.

Sean thought about that. A guy could, he supposed, choose to be inspired or not inspired by just about anyone – influenced too. The thought struck him like lightning igniting a forest fire. It was up to him to decide if he’d let his dad influence him or not. He was the one who had to make that choice.

The revelation swept over Sean leaving him feeling positive and energized. All through his afternoon classes, he returned again and again to the same invigorating conclusion. Even Gerry noticed his newfound optimism when they met at their lockers after school. “What’s with you? You get electrocuted in Physics?”

“No, but I’m glad that project’s done. What a monster.”

“Yeah, my folks are glad too. They weren’t really keen on my breaking a bunch of new sticks.” He pulled his Cougars jacket on, the snaps closing, then popping open across his chest. “I’m looking forward to a Mustangs jacket.”

“Me too,” said Sean, sliding his long arms into sleeves that no longer reached his wrists.

Gerry’s pupils jumped. “Why do I have this feeling that you’re going to be awesome tonight?”

Sean had the same feeling as soon as the rink came into focus through the eye slits of his mask. He felt great during the drills and anxiously awaited the scrimmage. Pete was sitting out so the nets belonged to him and Levi for the whole game. The guys were hustling and making a point of taking their men out of the play. Levi looked solid, but just before half time, Darren slid the puck between Levi’s legs on a three on two. Sean stopped everything the guys threw his way, despite the fact that there were virtually no whistles. Midway through the first half, he’d stopped a total of sixteen shots and another six by the end. Sweat clouded his eyes as he removed his fiery mask and looked up at the clock registering no time. Satisfied, Sean skated off the ice.

It would have been a remarkable night if they hadn’t cut Jared.

“I heard you had the edge on Levi tonight,” his father said, coming into the kitchen later that night while Sean was spreading a large dollop of peanut butter over two slices of sourdough bread. “Now if you can just work on bringing your play up to par with Pete’s.”

“They let Jared go.”

“I heard,” he said, “but that shouldn’t influence…”

“Shut up!” Sean’s response took them both aback. “Look Dad,” said Sean in a voice that could only attempt conciliation, “I know you have all these connections and info and stuff, but I just don’t want to hear it.” He poured himself a glass of milk.

His dad leaned against the counter, his eyes trying to pierce Sean’s defense. “I don’t understand why you’re so antagonistic about your hockey these days. Every time I try and point out how you could improve, you get surly.”

“I don’t need your advice.”

“Oh really.” Sarcasm tainted his words. “I suppose you think you’re going to make the Mustangs playing like you have been? Your play’s been just a little inconsistent, shall we say.”

Dozens of comebacks surged through Sean’s mind, but he chose none. He bit into his sandwich and chewed deliberately, the tension in the room escalating.

“You know what they say, ‘Good is the enemy of best.’”

Sean studied his father’s face, his bony square jaw, his forehead lined with age, his thinning hair grey around the temples. At fifty, he owned his own successful company and yet, he cherished the dream of his son making the Mustangs AAA midget hockey team. There was something pathetic about it all. Sean gulped his milk. For years he had permitted his father to direct that dream in which he was the key player, but no longer.

Offside Excerpt

I ran my finger and thumb across the last zip-lock bag, shoved it into my ski sock and nudged my bureau drawer closed.  Finished for another week and nobody suspected a thing.   Sweeping my hand through the thin stream of light on the desktop, I checked my fingers for telltale powder streaks and clicked off the lamp. Then I burrowed back into bed, glanced at my alarm clock and groaned.  Quarter to eleven and a 6:30 practice tomorrow morning.

Downstairs, the volume of the TV suddenly increased as a commercial interrupted the news.  “Stuffed up and sneezy?  The solution’s easy…” I winced at the catchy slogan of Lise’s favorite cold remedy and mimicked the commercial.  “Stuffed up and sneezy?  The solution’s easy.  Doesn’t matter if you’re young or old.  Just mix up Sinus Minus and throw away your shyness.  For a healthy sinus, minus the cold.” I pulled my pillow down squarely over my head.

That was how it had all started.  Some muscle-bound musician, who had probably never been stuffed up in his life, had hooked my stepmom, Lise, on Sinus Minus.  From that day on, lime-green boxes in the shape of enormous noses had begun appearing in the medicine cabinets.  Inside each enormous nose were ten shiny foil packets adorned with the Sinus Minus schnoz. One small sniffle was enough to elicit some serious advice to mix it with something warm for the throat.  It was definitely one of Lise’s latest crazes, but at least she hadn’t decided to market the stuff – that was my department.  In just six weeks, I’d managed to get my entire hockey team hooked on Sinus Minus.

Stormstruck Excerpt

A voice cackled through a long tube that jutted down into the captain’s quarters and Frederick leapt to his feet. He put his ear to the tube, his eyes growing wide. “They’ve spotted a boat, port side.” Michael, Jolene and Em followed him onto the deck, grasping the steel railing and holding on for their lives. The blizzard raged around them, stealing their words and reducing all communication to hand gestures and signals. Michael pointed into the water where the ominous hull of a freighter wallowed upside down. A man’s head bobbed to the surface, then another beside him. Pulling a life preserver from its hook, Frederick tossed it to the man. Beside him, a sailor tore another from the wall and hurled it into the sea. Jolene watched the men grab for them. It would be impossible to attempt a rescue in these seas. She watched a life preserver rise and fall at the mercy of the waves, and shouted to the men. The wind silenced the words on her lips. A hand broke free of the surface then sank. It did not reappear. The life preserver was swept away.

Frederick gestured at them to return to the cabin, but as they tried to turn back, a wave hit the pilothouse, knocking out two windows and smashing the wooden door. The boat heeled sharply, threatening to tip. Jolene screamed and they grabbed for the railing. She saw the wheelsman skid across the pilothouse. He pulled himself to his feet and grabbed the wheel. The boat lurched into another trough, the storm knocking Jolene to her knees. She felt Frederick’s strong arm around her and rose as the boat recovered. With slow, measured steps, the three of them and Frederick managed to return to the captain’s quarters.

“I’m going up to the pilothouse,” said Frederick after they had struggled to close the door against the violence of the storm. “You stay here and listen at the speaking tube. Do what the captain says, understand?” For a moment, he reminded Jolene of Grandpa. He pried the door open and ventured out into the elements. Jolene wondered if she would ever see him again.

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” Em’s eyes were blank.

Michael said nothing. Jolene made no response. The same thought had occurred to both of them.

Suddenly the boat surged forward. Jolene pressed her face against the ice-covered windows. Michael came to stand beside her. “I’m betting the Regina was lost with all hands,” he said solemnly.

Jolene buried her face in his shoulder. Tears welled up in her eyes and her body trembled. They couldn’t die like this. They weren’t even supposed to be here. A voice hollered down the listening tube and Michael bounded towards it. “Anchor,” he repeated. “They’re anchoring the ship.”

“Really?” asked Em. “Maybe we’re close to shore.” Jolene felt hope nudge her despair. She heard the muffled banging of machinery and Frederick burst through the door.

“We’re taking on water,” he told them. “The captain’s going to anchor and save the power to run the pumps.” He stroked his beard as if he couldn’t believe what was happening. “Let’s hope we’re in close enough for the anchor to hit bottom.” He raised his eyes towards the heavens and waited. Jolene felt the boat continue to heel. Then suddenly it steadied. Frederick did not move. “Hold,” he breathed. “Hold.” The Regina held. Frederick exhaled. “Now it’s up to the pumps.” He disappeared into the wind and weather.

Jolene, Michael and Em clung to the little hope Frederick had given them. If the pumps could keep the boat from flooding, they could ride out the storm safely anchored in water deep enough to keep them from being run aground on the rocks. Together they waited, time weighing heavily on their hearts. The listening tube rumbled again and Jolene pressed her ear to it. The captain’s words stopped her heart momentarily.

“What is it?” asked Michael.

In a daze, Jolene stepped away from the tube. “An order to abandon ship,” she stated finally. The three of them stared at each other. The air in the suite grew thick with fear. Em whimpered and Michael trembled. Jolene reached beneath her dress collar and pulled the hood of her drysuit over her head, instructing Michael and Em to do the same.

“Let’s go!” Frederick, his hair plastered against his head and his eyes crazed, was standing at the door. “We’ve lost power.” With no further explanation, he handed them each a life jacket, which they pulled on and tied with nervous fingers. Frederick herded them onto the icy deck towards a lifeboat suspended over the side of the Regina. A sailor steadied the lifeboat and Michael climbed over the icy railing, followed by Em and Jolene. Frederick pressed a heavy coil of rope into Jolene’s hands. “Lash yourselves to the boat,” he thundered in her ear.

Jolene wound the rope around her waist, securing it with a bowline before passing it to Em and motioning for her to do the same. Em managed to do so as Jolene tried to tie the rope to the boat. The lifeboat lurched then plummeted as Frederick manned the pulleys. Jolene gripped its edges as Em handed Michael the remaining rope coil. If they could just wrap it around themselves and secure the ends. The boat dropped. Terror seized Jolene. Out of the darkness, a wave smashed the lifeboat into the steel hull of the Regina. Jolene heard the wood crack, felt the lifeboat teeter, then tip as the wave surged back from the boat. The freezing waters of Lake Huron engulfed them.

Shadows of Disaster Excerpt

A thin beam of moonlight trickled into the room. A woolen jacket hung on the back of a chair. She crept quickly across the planks towards the bed.  A man snored beneath a woolen blanket. A moustache twitched.  “Gramps!” she whispered, shaking the blankets.  “Gramps, it’s Jo.  Wake up!” Grandpa groaned in his sleep. She caught a stiff whiff of whiskey on his breath, then tugged at the blanket, pulling it completely off the bed.  “Come on.  We’ve got to get out of here.” Grandpa moaned again and rolled over.  “Get up!” ordered Jolene, as her grandfather’s body rolled towards the edge of the bed.

Slowly, Grandpa opened his eyes.  “Jo?” he asked.

“It’s four in the morning on April 29th.”

“April 29th?” he asked groggily.

“In 1903!  The slide is going to come down.  We’ve got to get out of here!”

Her voice was panicky now.

Grandpa leaned into the moonbeam and looked at his watch.  “Goodness, Jo, you’re right.” He struggled to his feet and pulled on his shoes. “I meant to come find you last night after I’d had a few drinks with the baseball team. But Karl was there and I…”

“Never mind,” called Jolene, urging him towards the door. Together they raced down the stairs and burst out into the night.

The air whispered and the mountain shrugged.  Jolene stopped and looked in the direction of the cottages.  “Shouldn’t we do something?” she gasped.

Grandpa shook his head.  “No time, Jo, no time.” She ran a few steps and stopped again.  “Come on, Jo.  It won’t make any difference anyway.”

Above them the mountain crackled softly.

Grandpa grabbed Jolene’s arm.  “Run!  Now!  As fast as you can.”

Jolene needed no convincing.  She ran, tears streaming down her face, her heart pulsing in her fingertips.  They lost their way and circled blindly about until she found the railway tracks. “Over here!” Grandpa ran towards Jo’s voice. “Stay on the tracks!” she called.

Their feet pounded down the railway ties. Jolene concentrated on keeping her stride strong and even, so as not to trip. They were almost at the field near the time crease.

Behind her, she heard a heavy thud and a crash. She whirled around. Grandpa lay sprawled across the tracks. She raced back to him, dropping to her knees. “Gramps, are you okay?” Blood trickled from a cut on his forehead. He moaned softly. Jolene put an arm under his shoulders and shifted him until he was half-sitting. “Come on, Gramps, up,” she urged. She had to get him on his feet, had to get him to the time crease. He murmured something incoherent and dabbed at the wound on his forehead. “Up,” she repeated as he struggled to his feet. Above them, the mountain crackled again. It wasn’t far, maybe a hundred metres. She put her arm around his waist and wrapped his around her shoulders. “Lean on me,” she breathed, staggering under his weight. They stumbled forward through the field.

He was breathing hard, drawing breath in great gulps. “Jo,” he whispered, stopping. “You go. Go ahead without me. You’re young. You still have…”

“No!” she said sharply. “Don’t talk. Walk!”

His feet resumed their motion. They were in the crocus field now, his body leaning heavily against Jolene’s.

“I can see the silhouette of the erratic. Straight ahead,” she said, urging him on.

Grandpa’s breathing grew heavier, more rapid.

Behind them, the mountain rumbled.  Jolene looked back over her shoulder. Just a few more steps. Could she get them through the crease this time? She’d never done it before. Above them, there was a loud roar, like an almighty clap of thunder.  An enormous slab of rock broke off and hurtled itself into the valley.

Chaos in Halifax Excerpt

“There!” Michael raised his arm and pointed towards the Narrows just beyond Pier 6. Jolene’s eyes followed his outstretched hand and the two of them stood like statues erected on the hillside. From their vantage point, they could see the Mont Blanc. Just metres away from her was the Imo, steaming forward on a path of collision. Whistles shrieked, horns blew frantically. In desperation, the Mont Blanc veered. The prow of the Imo ploughed into the munitions ship’s deck.

Jolene stared at the two vessels locked in an odd sort of embrace. Slowly, they pulled apart, metal screeching against metal and emitting a shower of sparks. “The benzol is in barrels on the deck,” whispered Jolene. As if on cue, the flammable liquid burst into flame, throwing a dark billowing cloud of smoke into the air. A barrel exploded, shooting ribbons of fire into the clouds of steam and smoke. A kaleidoscope of colours swirled in the sky. Another barrel exploded into spectacular fireworks, then another and another.

“Come on!” cried Michael, racing down the hill.

Jolene watched him in horror. “No!” she screamed. “Michael, stop!”

But her words were lost in the deafening roar of the fire and the shouts of the people now pouring onto the streets. A column of oily black smoke towered above the ship. Balls of fire ripped through it dispersing into showers of light. Jolene dashed after her brother. By the time she’d reached Campbell Road, she could feel her skin tighten in the incredible heat of the burning ship. Fire bells clanged and a fire engine raced past her. She caught sight of Michael trying to manoeuvre through the crowd and sprinted after him. Hundreds of people were flocking to the dock. Some of the serious spectators had climbed to the top of the fifteen-storey sugar refinery for a bird’s eye view of the burning Mont Blanc, which was now drifting towards Pier 6. Jolene finally caught up with her brother as the crowd blocked his way. Cries and exclamations went up from the throng as if they were at a carnival. Michael climbed onto a large wooden crate and Jolene scrambled up behind him. From there, they could clearly see the burning ship.

Jolene grabbed Michael’s jacket. Heat seared her face and fear made her heart hammer. “Michael, we have to get out of here. Now!”

Michael whirled around to face her, his eyes bright and alive. “You’re right,” he shouted over the explosive crackling of the flames. Relief flooded over Jolene. She let go of his jacket. “We’ll never get to Roome Street this way. We have to find another route.” Jolene watched in disbelief as he leaped from the crate, dodged two sailors and bolted back across the cobblestones of Campbell Road up the hill. She followed frantically, sidestepping around the motorcars that had ground to a halt in the street. A horse reared, terror in its eyes.

Jolene followed Michael as he turned right on Albert Street and raced onwards. At the corner of Mulgrave Park, he paused to watch the burning ship in the harbour. Another vessel had come alongside, probably intending to tow her away from the pier. A boy on a bicycle screeched to a stop in front of Michael as Jolene caught up with them. “Hey Michael,” called Reg. “I bet you’ve never seen the likes of this.” His voice resounded with excitement. “That ship has a cannon on board. I’ll wager it’s carrying ammunition.” He stood up and pedalled furiously down the hill.

“Reg!” called Michael, but the boy was gone, his cap flying off his head.

Jolene gripped Michael’s arm. She was panting and sweat soaked her blouse. “Please,” she pleaded. “We have to go back. That ship’s going to explode.” Desperation ran deep in her words.

For a moment, her brother hesitated. “I don’t want Cassie to die,” he shouted. He wrenched himself free of her grip and started to race across Mulgrave Park.

“Yeah, well I don’t want you to die,” she screamed after him.

At that instant, Jolene was acutely aware of an ominous unnatural silence. A blinding flash of light illuminated the world and simultaneously, she heard the ear-splitting boom of an explosion. A blast of air swept her forward and sent her crashing to the earth. Looking up, she caught sight of an enormous mushroom cloud. Something struck her head and pain racked her body. Her head slumped and her eyes closed. “Michael,” she whispered as the world turned black.