The Ghosts of Havenholm (Part Three)

Part One
Part Two

CHAPTER 5

When Oscar was little, the idea of death scared him. He thought about it as a form of terrible sleep, a sinking feeling into blackness. In bed he could imagine his ribs, lungs, heart, and then the rest of his body, dropping through the mattress, now body bending at the waist, arrowing downwards in an inexorable plunge. He had never thought of where the vortex would take him, or if it was supposed to end. Death was a dreaded feeling, not a place.

On a few dark nights he would wonder about hell, but he reasoned if there was a hell, then there was a heaven. And it seemed a bit selfish to worry about whether you personally ended up in one place or another. Knowing there was a paradise was consolation enough, wasn’t it? But the groping blackness? That made him pester his parents before bedtime.

“So, Grandma and Grandpa are asleep?”

“Yes, sweetie.”

“But they won’t wake up?”

“No.”

“And where did they go?”

“Some people say nowhere.”

Havenholm was, apparently, Nowhere. It made Oscar laugh out loud. His voice carried over the water and echoed against the shore on the other side of the river and the hard slate autumn sky. Across the water, he could see his house. Though it was early morning, he saw a dim orange glow through a small window. He believed it was the small reading nook of the first landing that his mother had claimed as her own when they first moved in. The lights went out late and came on early. His mother must have been writing, but she also was not sleeping much. Nearly everyday since—let’s face it—Oscar died, he watched his mother and father leave the house and not return until evening. Oscar’s father must have been teaching since the semester had started, but where was his mother going?

Eight weeks before, his family had pulled up to the house in a truck and began to unpack. He had hardly settled in when he saw the girl with the red hair and yellow dress lurking in the tall grass on the hill that rose on the other side of the street. At her beckoning, he crept out into the moonlight. He crossed the ring road and climbed the sloping meadow. He reached out to her and his hands passed through her. He ran. He fell. She woke him up and asked to play with him and, as if in a trance, he did. He spent the summer morning and afternoon climbing trees with the perfect stranger. Oscar had begun to believe had made a new friend and that relocating to Havenholm would not be so horrible, except as the day waned he discovered he was no longer among the living, and this particular day of fun was his initiation into the afterlife.

Oscar recalled how his mother found his body in the tall grass near the foundations of the burnt-out cottage. She screamed and bolted back to their home. Oscar ran after her, wanting to comfort her and be comforted by her. But as he approached the road, it shimmered and transformed into a river, separating him and the hill from his parents and house on the other side.

Oscar attempted to wade across, but the girl, Willa, tackled him. They were the same age—or at least they were when they met their ends—but she was bigger and stronger. She clawed at his legs. He tried to kick her. He caught her in the jaw and the sick sound broke through the blur of frantic struggle and he stopped.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t.”

Until that moment, he had felt bafflement, fear, panic, but only when he struck her did he want to cry. It was the feeling of shame. Not since he was toddler had he struck anyone.

“I just… just want to go home.”

“Don’t. You can’t.”

 

creature-in-river

Willa lifted herself up from the muddy bank with one hand and pointed with the other to something moving between the waves. A long, slick, scaly back undulated at the surface. A giant yellow eye popped up and stared with hunger at the two children. Willa scrambled up the bank. She turned to make sure that Oscar followed. He did not. Mouth agape, he stood stunned. A great tentacle lashed out of the river and wrapped around Oscar’s leg. Oscar snapped back to his senses. He tried to grab at grass stalks and crumbling earth. Willa flung herself at him, to anchor and tug him to safety. The creature was too strong. Willa gnashed her teeth and braced her legs.

“No, not again,” she yelled. “Tough Tom. Tough Tom. Tough Tom.”

It sounded more like an incantation than a plea for help. Either way, it was answered. Heavy footfalls thudded down the hill—seemed to. Branches snapped. Tough Tom trampled toward them. Oscar, despite being an increasingly stretched rope in a tug of war between Willa and the monster, was amazed by what came. It was a younger boy. Eight years old, perhaps. He was stocky and thick-limbed, like a small weightlifter in britches, suspenders, and a woolen cap—like the one Oliver Twist wore in the movies. Without hesitation, the boy grabbed Oscar and Willa by their wrists, tore them from the tentacle, and flung the pair up the bank. Oscar’s face was in the dirt and his blood (he knew it was the blood of the dead) pounded in his head, but he could hear the stream of inventive but antiquated curses emitting from the small boy’s mouth. Schoolyard swears Oscar had at times used himself, but never with such intricacy or length, gilded with old-fashioned gems like “cussed,” “golderned,” and “tarnation”. As Oscar, raised his eyes to take in the sight, Tough Tom—Oscar could only presume it was him that Willa called—picked a stone as large as his head and threw it easily, as if it were a tennis ball. The creature in the water dodged the missile without much much concern, gave Oscar one last ravenous look with its giant unblinking eye, and dove down into the deep.

Dazed, barely standing, and unable to speak, Oscar let his rescuers guide him up the hill and along the deer trail. Willa and Tough Tom muttered to each other. She pointed at her chin where Oscar’s sneakers met her face. The smaller boy tsked the way a parent would. They arrived at the great tree. Oscar prepared himself to ascend the soaring oak, but instead of climbing, they circled around it. Among its thick roots, Oscar found another burned-out ruin. There was a dip in the ground, and he thought they were leading him to a cave or a dugout but there was a door. Inside, he found a dim room with shelves that covered the walls. They were laden with books. On the floor in a corner, building a fort out of old tomes, were a twin boy and girl. They were about three. They darted into their refuge and Oscar could only see their eyes through a slit window they had made.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“This is home,” said Willa.

“No. Is this heaven or hell?”

“Well, gee, neither. It’s Havenholm.”

“But it’s not. There used to be a road, not a river. And this tree, there was no tree like this before.”

Tough Tom interrupted with a cough. He cleared his throat and said, “If one reads Dante’s Divina Commedia—in English that’s Divine Comedy—one will find in the second cantica the Mount of Purgatory. Naturally, the reader may note Havenholm’s similarity to Purgatorio, but in fact, this hill or island, as it is indeed surrounded by water, is a nexus between the natural and spiritual worlds presently manipulated by mystical energies.”

The stout boy crossed his arms in satisfaction.

Oscar turned to Willa. “This must be hell.”

“Sorry. Tough Tom has read a lot, and likes to show it.”

Tough Tom sniffed, “Would it be better if we mooned over Howdy Doody and Leave It To Beaver?”

“Quiet, Tom. Oscar, I died a long time ago. I used to live in a house like yours on the hill. My mum and my dad worked at Havenholm. It was a school for deaf and blind kids but there were other kids too, kids who didn’t have parents. There was a big fire.”

Oscar saw Willa’s lips begin to tremble. Tough Tom put a paternal hand on her shoulder. She continued, “My mum and dad saw a bright light on the hill. They called for me to come. I ran to them. There were other kids, some of them students, others like me, and they went to the light. But they had to cross the water. Back then I didn’t know where it came from. And the monster you saw caught them and swallowed them. Just the kids.”

“No grown-ups?”

She shook her head. “I would have been taken too, but something stopped me.”

“What?” asked Oscar.

“I dunno,” whispered Willa.

“Anger,” said Tough Tom. “Vengeance.”

Willa looked away. Oscar toed at the floor and shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his housecoat. He nodded toward the twins in the fort.

“What happened to them?”

“They were the only two I could save. Until you.”

Oscar thanked Willa at the time. Since then, however, he kept returning to the river and struggled with the urge to dive in. The light went out in his mother’s study window. He saw his mother and dad step off the porch and into the family car. The car seemed to roll upon the surface of the river and then turned left, heading to town.

He wished he could be with them. But if he crossed, where would he end up? Surely, not among the living. In the weeks following his fatal collapse, Oscar’s curiosity led him to read the book Tough Tom had mentioned. It was a really long poem and some of it he didn’t understand. Three lines, though, stayed with him: Tell us how is it that thou makest thyself/A wall unto the sun, as if thou hadst not/Entered as yet into the net of death.

Oscar had one answer, “I’m a ghost.”

Oscar scanned the river, picked up a rock, and flung it as hard as he could. It fell short.

Featured Artist: Jack Campbell

This feature originally appeared in our August 2016 print edition, and Jack’s incredible work, Fraser Workforce, was our cover. Thanks to Carole and Heather, Jack’s wife and daughter who gave us permission to use these images and provided the accompanying text. Jack Campbell is a truly New Westminster painting icon, with a brilliant and unique style that is both fluid and geometric. As Councillor Patrick Johnstone remarked, “once you see Jack’s work, you see his paintings everywhere in New West.”

b. January 14, 1931 – d. March 28, 2014

Jack Campbell was born and raised in New Westminster. Jack’s art is found in private and corporate collections around the world. Jack was an honours graduate from the Vancouver School of Art, worked in graphic design, instructed for the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design Outreach Program, Kootenay School of Art, and David Thompson University before moving to Saturna Island in 1997. His love of landscape and the figure is shown in his work with a style uniquely his own. He loved art as a child and painted up to the last day of his life. His wife Carole makes his work available through the web, art exhibitions and the gallery.

“In my drawings, paintings, and paper sculptures, I have always been intrigued by shapes. I mainly work in three areas, waterscapes, landscapes, and the human form. I first use the subject matter as a point of departure. Then through a process of selection, elimination, and simplifying with the use of tone and colour, I explore ways to create a composition to my satisfaction. The final work of art is a rebirth of the subject matter based on my own visual, emotional, and spiritual interpretation of the forms. As an artist, viewer participation is important I enjoy taking the viewer on a visual journey through my art.”

About the Cover:

Fraser Workforce 1999

Fraser River Workforce (1999) is one of a number of Jack’s works of the Fraser River from his view in New Westminster and depicts working boats beneath the iconic Pattullo and the SkyBridge. Along with Old Mill on River (undated), Fraser Tugboats 2 (1999), and Tugboat Festival (1995), the narrative of the Fraser River as a working river is told.

Old Mill on Fraser Fraser Tugboats 2 Tugboat Festival 1995

You can purchase Jack’s work from the Jack Campbell-Art Dream Gallery located at 193 East Point Road, Saturna Island, BC, V0N 2Y0.

Phone: 250-539-5810 or Cell: 250-580-5810

Email: artdream.jcampbell@gmail.com

Website:  jackcampbell-artdream.com

The gallery is open random hours, please phone for an appointment to view Jack Campbell’s original paintings and fine art prints.  

The Ghosts of Havenholm (Part Two)

ghost of havenholm title naturalThis is a serialized work of fiction, written and illustrated by JJ Lee. You can find the first part here. These originally appeared in our print editions in June and August. 

CHAPTER THREE

“I wasn’t sure if you were dead or alive.”

Oscar struggled through the haze. He focused and saw bits of yellow flecked in grey-green eyes. The girl with the red hair leaned over him, so close one of her braids fell down and brushed against his nose and lips. He swatted at the tail.

The girl stepped back and repeated herself.

“I wasn’t sure if you were dead or alive.”

Oscar was sprawled on his back in the tall grass. Morning had come. He must have been lying there for hours. He tried to sit up. His vision blurred. Instead of seeing two of his feet in white sneakers, he saw four. A wave of nausea swelled inside him.

“It’s better if you don’t look down or back.”

The girl offered a hand.

He did not take it but staggered to his feet on his own.

“What’s your name?” said the girl.

He remembered seeing her the night before from his bedroom window. She had beckoned. He had snuck out and crossed the meadow to her. He remembered the blue light of the moon and how he thought he saw her floating above the grass. He ran, afraid, and stumbled and fell head over heels. Now, here she was standing in front of him in broad daylight still wearing the yellow dress. He noticed how crumpled and ragged it looked. Soot covered her from forehead to ankle. Her hair was haphazardly braided, more like two tangled clumps that fell roughly to the sides of her head. She looked like she lived outside. He had thought the girl was a ghost. Now he thought she needed a bath. He imagined how much Simon would have laughed at him. He felt horrible.

“What’s your name?” Again, she repeated herself.

“Oscar.”

“I’m Willa.”

He shook her extended hand. Despite the morning summer heat, her fingers felt icy. Her touch made the hairs on the back of Oscar’s neck prickle. He wanted to get away from her. Oscar glanced down the hill. He thought of going home. Willa must have read his mind.

“You don’t want to go back home now. Trust me.”

He let go of her and put his hands into the pockets of his housecoat. He realized how odd he too must have appeared in his pyjamas, outside, in broad daylight, not that this girl would even notice.

Yes, Oscar did want to go home. He started to retreat from her but Willa thrust her arm into the loop of his and gave a gentle tug.

“I want to show you a tree.”

oscar and willa

CHAPTER FOUR

What Willa said to Oscar, as far as he was concerned, did not make all that much sense. When do perfect strangers want to show you a tree? Why would they? And who would follow them? Not any person with any good sense. However, her words sent Oscar’s brain reeling. It did what his mother called the ‘Oscar Effect.’ It was when his mind thought more things than he could actually handle. His mind rushed with the thought of going home, the thought he hadn’t had breakfast. But he did not feel hungry. He should change what he was wearing. But who would be there to see him in this lonely, near-abandoned neighbourhood? The girl was a weirdo. But she smelled like fresh-cut grass and he kind of liked that. Oscar thought of his mother and his father. He thought of Simon. He thought of trees. He loved trees…but should he? He thought of everything and like a bunch of clowns trying to fit through a door, his jumbled thoughts prevented him from making up his mind. Willa tugged his arm one more time and he let her decide for him. He relented and walked with her.

When she was sure that he would follow Willa dropped her arm and led Oscar along what may have been an old deer path. It wound up the hill, through the grass, into the woods. It did not take long for the brush to thicken and the trail to fade. Willa slipped through the branches and leaves without a problem. She seemed to glide through it all like a doe. Every stick and nettle seemed to catch on Oscar. He more or less crashed through.

At the point where the bramble grew so thick and Oscar, tired of being stung and slapped, was about to turn back, he plunged through a final green curtain and emerged in a sizable meadow drenched in soft golden sunlight. At its centre rose a massive oak tree. It possessed a great trunk that split into two giant masts that soared upwards.

Before Oscar had become sick, before he had met Simon (who early in their friendship had told Oscar that tree climbing “was for babies”), Oscar was an expert tree climber. His father was not the sporty type and playing catch was out of the question. Instead, they had taken up tree climbing as their mutual hobby, their father-son activity. As a result, it was with the eye of a connaisseur that Oscar admired the dual spiral of branches that rose into the sky like a pair of staircases.

Willa said, “C’mon.”

He needed no further urging. Oscar raced up the tree. It was easy, practically effortless. Still, Willa was faster. She flew, barely touching a branch before she flitted up to the next one. They climbed and climbed. Oscar puzzled over how the tree did not thin out as they went higher. It was if he were ascending a castle tower. How tall was this tree? Oscar guessed they were six floors up when Willa stopped.

“Isn’t it incredible?”

“Yes, but have you ever reached the top?”

Willa shook her head. “No, it just goes on.”

“What do you mean?”

Willa moved out onto a branch and sat down.  “Just try. I’ll be here when you get back. Then I’ll show you the view.”

“I’ll see it when I get to the top.”

“No, you won’t,” said Willa.

Oscar climbed. She was an odd girl. He wondered if she lived in the tree. It was big enough. He looked down every so often to gauge his progress. Eventually, he lost sight of the ground. Then it was Willa who was falling out of sight. By the time Oscar stopped ascending, she was a mere yellow dot half lost in the confusing weave of spoking branches, leaves, and shadows. He climbed ten more feet and lost sight of her. He lost his nerve and started down.

“Now you understand?” she said.

“The tree doesn’t look so tall from the ground.”

“Nothing is quite what it seems.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing. Let me show you the view.”

Willa started to work her way out along the branch. So great was its girth, they could stride along it as if they were walking a pirate’s plank.

When the limb started to bend, she said, “Grab the branch above you and pull it down, if you can.”

“Like this?”

“Excellent. Yes, as much as you can.”

oscar looks over havenholm

All the way up Oscar had seen bits and pieces of what lay below but when their heads popped out of the crown, through the awning of leaves, Oscar gasped. A great vista lay before him. He could now see how the meadow sat near the top of Havenholm. He saw other patches of grass throughout the woods and the ruins of houses. Then he saw the road that ringed the hill and the three occupied houses on the other side.

“That one’s my house.”

“I know.”

Oscar watched his mother come out of the house, cross the road, and begin searching through the tall grass. He could see her so clearly, freakishly so. A few strands of her hair slipped out of the kerchief she used to wrap her head when she was, as she would say, “a hot mess.” Her face held a grave look. She called for him.

“Oscar. Oscar?”

Each time she said his name, an edge of alarm grew wider in her voice. Oscar wanted to scramble down and run to her. He thought how nice it would be to have Saturday morning pancakes or read the funnies out loud to his father. He thought how she still read to him at bedtime even though he was perfectly able to read quite lengthy novels all on his own and how he still loved it when she did. He watched his mother’s hand rise to her mouth. She ran to the spot where he fell the night before. She went down to her knees and started sobbing. She screamed out, “Louis.”

Louis was his father’s name. She said it again and again, louder and louder, until her voice grew hoarse. She stood up and sprinted to the house.

“It’s Oscar. He isn’t moving. Call an ambulance.”

In the tall grass, where he had fallen the night before, Oscar saw, half-hidden behind the bent and broken stalks, a pair of feet in white sneakers.

Willa sighed.

“I told you not to look down.”

Featured Artist: Jim Walsh

Artist Statement:

JW_headshotJim Walsh painting as J. Charles

I am a graphic designer, an artist and a long-time New West resident. I’m an Active Status member of the Federation of Canadian Artists and my work is represented by galleries here in the Pacific Northwest as well as with Fine Caribbean Art in south Florida. As a painter, I am drawn to the random patterns and colors I see and feel in our natural surroundings. I’m interested in capturing a specific moment and then reimagining it through the colors I see as well as the colors that I want to see.

My paintings are in the permanent collection of the Alberta Art Foundation as well as in private and corporate collections through out North America including the home office of Bristol-Myers Squibb and 3Macs Financial Management in Montreal. Continue reading “Featured Artist: Jim Walsh”

The Ghosts of Havenholm (Part One)

This following is part one of a serialized novella by New Westminster author JJ Lee and features the first two chapters of The Ghosts of Havenholm. We are so very proud to be able to publish this work.

The story: “Oscar has a number of problems. He just moved to Havenholm, a creepy neighbourhood that most people in town avoid. He has no friends. Nearly everyone he meet appears to be dead. And then there is the decrepit groundskeeper, Mr. Maurais, a man who hungers to consume Oscar’s soul.”

Stay tuned for Part Two in August. 


Ghost of Havenholm Chapter 1 and 2CHAPTER ONE

The summer haze may have made her shimmer, if she was real at all. In the tall grass across the road, a distance away, Oscar saw a tail of red hair and the flutter of a yellow skirt or dress.

He rubbed his eyes. He hesitated on the top step of the front porch of his new house in Havenholm. New isn’t quite the right word for Havenholm because it was, in fact, one of the oldest neighbourhoods. It was isolated from the rest of town. Only one road led to the area, which was plenty enough. Few people in town ever visited for the place had a grim history.

Havenholm had been the grounds of a sanatorium and later an orphanage. Then it had been a college for deaf and blind children. A great fire had burned down all the buildings on the hill. Now, Oscar saw only thick woods and bits of meadow.

His father had told him that lives were lost and, as a result, only on rare occasions did local folk cross the road that ringed the hill to set foot on Havenholm proper. On the outside edge of the ring road stood the only houses that survived the fire. A mere three of them had families living in them, including Oscar’s.

But none of Havenholm’s history was the cause of his reluctance. Continue reading “The Ghosts of Havenholm (Part One)”

Featured Artist: Ginger Deverell

InTransformation

ginger_deverell-59This issue’s featured artist is Ginger Deverell.

She is a mother, wife, book hound, and nature lover. She is also an artist, illustrator and surface designer. She works from her cozy attic studio in her early 1900’s home in Sapperton, New Westminster, Canada. Ginger creates portraits, patterns, florals and artistic prose—offering visual reminders of the strength that lives in beauty and the beauty within ourselves.

 About the painting:

Continue reading “Featured Artist: Ginger Deverell”