I Watch Crappy Christmas Movies for Your Enjoyment – The Christmas Project

Hey, did you know those bullies that beat the everloving shit out of you, made you feel like you were human garbage, and were just terrific examples of mankind at its absolute lowest point of evolution were secretly just lonely people looking for a friend?

If you’ve ever actually had real bullies or spent time on the Internet just long enough to look in any comments section on a video starring a minority, woman, or a fat person, right now you’re sitting back and groaning at the unfiltered bullshit that is that first paragraph. Hollywood loves to paint bad boys as romantic heroes, not just in terms of romances (where the wife-beating, child-beating, verbally abusive dickheadedness is often glossed over because oooh he’s sexy when he hits things and gets all dark and broody, right?) but in children’s stories like The Christmas Project, it’s utter horseshit. If your child happens to be going through bullying, you’ll know it the minute you start watching this abomination of a good Christmas message and a flat-out terrible message about some people just needing pals and pity.

It’s a shame. Christmas Project gets one thing absolutely 100% right, and that’s the spirit of giving that should be the centerpiece of Christmas. In this movie, four brothers and their parents give presents each night anonymously to a family in need, dropping off the gifts without asking or hoping for recognition. That part of Christmas Project is adorable, and it’s why I’d say it’s mostly harmless if you watch it with your family.

But if you’ve got a kid in your life who’s going through bullying, you probably understand one terrible truth about the universe – some people just want to hate. Now maybe there are a few people who lash out and just need a little attention, but the kid whaling the tar out of your boy in the locker room in PE is just as likely to wind up being the douchebag who leaves comments like “nice titz fatty” on a woman’s YouTube channel. Guess what? Those tweeners and teenagers aren’t magically going to become your kid’s friend because you leave them a plate of pity cookies.

Do you want to deliver a message about bullying that actually works? How about having the kids in the class get fed up with the bully’s bullshit and all take turns berating the kid until he’s shamed out of his shitty behavior? How about someone, anyone, standing up for the kid being bullied? How about an adult stepping in and talking to the kid’s parents to tell them what’s going on? How about expulsion or literally any sort of negative consequence for the actions of a terrible human being?

“Oh, but he’s just a kid!” No. Take a look at the news and you’ll see on just about any given day the shock and horror of a town grieving for another “just a kid” who committed suicide because of bullying. The minute those douchebags start pushing other children around, someone – ANYONE – needs to step in and stand up, both to the bully and to help pick the bullied child up off the floor. Hollywood has to stop with this “pity party” bullshit for those who would beat on, abuse, and berate those who are smaller and weaker than them.

Kids deserve better than this garbage.

Anyways, yeah, Christmas Project kinda sucks and kinda doesn’t. They name their dog “Farting,” so if that strikes you as the sort of intelligent thing you want to see in your Christmas movie, by all means, give it a go.


I Watch Crappy Christmas Movies for Your Enjoyment – The Christmas Prince

I love shitty movies.

Love ’em. Give me an Alien Apocalypse or a Dracula 3000 and I’m in my element. I’ve watched damn near every JCVD movie out there, no matter how “great” they might be. Back when I had satellite, I basked in Syfy’s movie smorgasbords. Ice Spiders? I’ll eat that right up. Dinocroc? Oh God yes.

I also love Christmas. I’m a nut for the holidays, starting with Halloween and ending New Year’s Day, even if the last time I’ve actually been to a New Year’s party was when I was seventeen or so and disappeared for an entire weekend. Sorry mom and dad!

I like the spirit. I like the kindness we ostensibly show one another (and yes, I get it, it’s something we should do all year, but come on, don’t ruin this for me). I like giving. I like the cookies, the decorating, the ugly Christmas sweaters, the goofy hats. I like imagining someday, no matter how foolish the hope, I’ll get to play Santa and Mrs. Claus with someone very special to me to kids just as spectacular as their parents. Especially their dad, who is doubtless The World’s Greatest.

Today, I realized just how many B-tier Christmas movies there were on Netflix, and I figured I’d give one of them a shot because sometimes you do genuinely find a winner among the dreck. For example, I think I found Nothing Like the Holidays on a streaming service years ago, and that movie had enough genuine heart to it I ended up buying a copy and watch it every other year or so.

That desire to watch Christmas terribleness and conjoin two of my loves led me to think about how I could share in my misery (or not, depending on what I find). That led me to this, the blog ranked #1 by Forbes in the “least likely website anyone will ever visit” category.

Now, to start things off, I needed a bang. Not in the sexual sense, because in these glossy fantasies, babies are probably flown in by pasty white storks with perfect teeth and wide-eyed minorities as their stork buddies. No, I needed a whopper of a bad Christmas movie to grab your attention, which worked, because you’re here, now, reading this – unless you’re me and you’re finally getting around to proofreading this, which you probably should have done BEFORE posting it, numbskull.

What was I saying? Right, white people, ethnic minority buddies, subzero heat levels, and wasted potential for meaningful commentary, even if that meaningful commentary is about fifty years late in coming. That means it’s time for a Christmas romance movie!

I’m a bit of an accidental connoisseur of these. My grandmother is all but house-ridden, and loves the things. Every time I go down to her house during the holidays these last couple of years, the Hallmark channel is on, usually glued to one or two actors or actresses you haven’t seen since the days when we were all worried about the Y2K virus. That’s, um, that’s 1999 or so for all you young’uns. See, we were worried that computers’ internal clocks would… eh, screw it. We all thought we were going to die in a fiery nerdpocalypse of unfixable proportions. Got it? Okay then.

The point is, I’ve watched enough of probably… oh, a dozen or so of these to know the setup like the back of my hand. Wait, I’m blind and I’ve never paid much attention to the back of my hand. I know it like the toilet roll in my bathroom! That’s better. Let’s break the genre down to its barest bones and I’ll show you how predictable they are:

  1. Perfect white girl in a dead-end job and/or relationship dreams of better things.
  2. Perfect white guy with just a hint of the playboy to him – usually insinuated by other characters rather than evidenced in any playboy behavior – provides an easy escape for the perfect white girl, who always is able to fly, drive, or get away with a moment’s notice.
  3. Perfect white girl’s minority friend (if she’s black, she’s not TOO black, because God forbid we make the target audience too uncomfortable) and Other Friend (usually a gay man, sometimes another “tawdry” girlfriend who tells it like it is) insist on Perfect White Girl getting away from it all. Note that neither of these side characters are ever used for anything other than encouragement and/or comic relief, because again, we don’t want to expose and overstimulate our audiences to cultures and/or peoples than what they’re expecting.
  4. Perfect girl lies to perfect guy to get close.
  5. Perfect guy is a moron and doesn’t check up on perfect girl, like, oh, taking five minutes to just look her up on Facebook.
  6. Perfect guy has a friend or relative to whom he shows unfaltering loyalty and kindness.
  7. Family Member/Friend convinces Perfect Girl to go for Perfect Guy.
  8. Nefarious Jealous Type, who is never, ever, under any nefarious circumstances given anything other than nefarious mustache-twirling levels of nefariousness to flesh out his/her nefarious character, decides Perfect Girl and Perfect Guy can’t be together.
  9. Nefarious Type calls out Perfect Girl on her bullshit. Probably this person should be the hero if they hadn’t been painted in such nefarious broad strokes, because the lying so-and-so is a Liar McButtface, but because we’re supposed to want Perfect Girl and Perfect Guy to wind up together regardless, the deception is conveniently glossed over for the sake of…
  10. Perfect Guy looks lost, usually with much frowning and moping around with Family Member/Friend trying to convince them it’ll all be all right, despite Liar McButtface being a total douche.
  11. Perfect Girl, despite being a Liar McButtface, rushes back after a Moment of Realization. Perfect Guy, despite having JUST BEEN SHIT ON, almost immediately takes her back, no doubt dooming himself to a lifetime of nights wondering just where the hell Perfect Girl actually is every time she’s two hours late. Here’s a hint, Perfect White Guy – she’s probably off getting finger-banged by one of her Liar McButtface friends who doubtless has more balls than you, you doormat.

Right, so that’s the generic setup to almost very literally all of these movies. Oh, sure, once every other year or so, you get an “urban” variation of this featuring lightly black individuals to fill a need in the programming so they don’t seem too racist, but that’s about the lone exception.

A Christmas Prince is exactly that. Exactly. That. Rose McIver – of the actually-decent iZombie TV show – is your Perfect Woman, while Ben Lamb, of… uh… Christmas Prince fame, is your Perfect Guy. The Borg Queen Alice Krige sadly doesn’t assimilate all these chumps into her hive mind as the Queen of Some Fictional Small Country that’s Inexplicably British and Rich.

The standout actress here is Honor Kneafsey, who plays a child princess with what I believe to be MS. She plays well off Rose McIver when she’s not given the “mischievous stinker” lines every child in movies like this have to have, because God forbid we paint kids as being kids, with all their bratty mood swings and general “if you don’t watch out for me I will probably die” neediness. Kneafsey manages to get in a few lines of seemingly honest dialogue, but her illness is largely glossed over with an impossible “you can do whatever you like!” attitude and never any fear of her getting ill or seriously injured in her horseplay.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering this is probably going to be watched by a much younger demographic – and they do need to know kids with disabilities should be allowed into regular activities if their doctors and parents are okay with it. But by ignoring the illness altogether, it gives the middle finger to people who actually cannot perform those physical activities. Just one line of dialogue – one, “I do need to be careful, okay?” – could have made this believable and gotten a pass from me, but oh well.

In any case, the players fit into their cliched characters like well-worn gloves forced onto their cold, clammy undead hands – at least in the case of McIver, who you really should just go watch in iZombie instead. Trust me, though, if you do, watch like three episodes of every season, followed by the last three. You’ll skip a bunch of unnecessary hemming and hawing and get right to the parts where shit actually happens. Also, her partner in that show is a treasure. A treasure!

Right, back on point. Uh, McIver is a copy editor at a major publication, which immediately sets this off as being in fantasy land, because if this was reality, they’d all be fired and working from home, guzzling down bourbon and slapping around their significant others when asked when they might actually get a real job. Journalists. In 2017. That’s cute!

She’s apparently unhappy with her cushy job in a high-rise office building with amazing windows and views and impossibly chic friends, so there’s a bit of whining before she’s rushed off to Blutoslavadiakevorkian to report on the royal family’s new upcoming king. Why not someone else, preferably someone not so whiny about a cushy copy editor job? Reasons, that’s why, and if you ask me again, I’ll slap you with a swimming noodle for being so nosy.

Some Random Guy steals her cab. Yup, you guessed it, it’s Perfect Guy in disguise. It’s never brought up again that he’s a cab thief, except in jokes, so the fact that he’s kind of a douche is just immediately forgotten again for reasons. Look, the movie ain’t exactly handing out chestnuts of great plot elements here, all right? I’m working with what I can, and that’s not much.

Perfect Girl arrives at the palace of Kevorkidorkian – which, by the way, looks suspiciously like the Peles Castle in Romania because, um, that’s what it is. Don’t ask me how I know that. Perfect Guy is apparently supposed to come announce he’s gonna become king on Christmas Day and lay the smackdown on Saladin on his great crusade and… wait. Wrong King Dicky.

No, Perfect Guy is back to take what’s rightfully his, and that seems to be… a lot of whininess about being king. Perfect Girl slips into his court by pretending to be the royal princess’s tutor. You can guess what’s going to be the giant wedge between the two already, can’t you? Of course you can, because instead of doing something interesting and revealing the truth to Richard when they start making “I want our thingies to get very messy together” eyes at each other, she doesn’t. Apparently his man bits make her Perfect Girl brain too vapid to say something as simple as, “Oh, hey, dude, I’ve been lying but if you let me explain it’s totally cool and your sister can back me up on this.”

God, I hate this movie. I hate when a story adamantly refuses to deviate from its cliched structure, even if just for a moment. I hate stories about impossibly perfect people. I hate dipping a spoon into sour cream thinking I’m getting a bite of cottage cheese in the middle of the night because shut up cottage cheese is a delightful midnight snack and I don’t have to justify myself to you, you nosy Nancy.

The one good thing the movie hints at doing – and this is the aforementioned “fifty years too late to be relevant” commentary – is a line by the princess about not being in line for the throne because of her particular private bits. This sets up would could have been a perfectly acceptable closing where the prince – who isn’t even blood – pushes for the daughter to become Queen. The set-up is even right there in a decree left by the former king that instead crowns the prince, who has done nothing to deserve kingliness except throw snowballs at unsuspecting kids who probably got frostbite and lost a finger or a toe. The princess’s plight at never being considered for the royal throne is never mentioned again. Not once. Because our heroine HAS to wind up with the king, right?


This is the sort of shlock I hate, and it’s pretty much defined by the cleanliness of the whole production. There are snowball fights wherein no one gets cold or even particularly wet. There’s no dirt. No grime. Not a hair is ever out of place. No one is less than perfect or villainous. It’s as binary a movie as you can imagine. There’s no real struggles here by anyone, no threat that won’t go unresolved, no heart that won’t go a-pitter-patter. This is a completely, insanely dull safe movie. That’s probably going to attract viewers, not push them away, and that’s totally fine. If this is what you want out of your entertainment, I actually kinda get it. I like my bad movies too. I just hope like hell whatever I wind up watching next has a little more flavor than this bland vanilla pudding I just crammed down my throat.

So with that said, tune in next time when I cram more vanilla pudding down my throat!

One last bit from Smyle

“Answer me!” His hand curled into a fist and he struck the thing. He touched darkness only, like sweeping his hand through a shadow, but a barrier in his mind crumbled, and he remembered some of it. The Christmas party after Hamber. The shade coming through the wall when Garrett was right about to give a speech. About fainting, and traveling.

He remembered the vagaries of a beautiful, impossible place, a mixture of the mountains near his cabin, the ocean he’d come to love in North Carolina, the pavilion-style tent on the beach, with all his friends and family happily gathered while Garrett stood apart, talking to…


Who had been the bespectacled man with the goatee Garrett hated on instinct? He’d told Garrett things, important things. And he’d helped with the depression sinking into Garrett’s soul after the horrors of Hamber. There had been something the man wanted to tell Garrett, but he’d shouted it as Garrett was falling away from that place – heaven, or a version of it, anyways. Two words, though it may have been four or five that just sounded like two.

Elom adlo.

What the hell did elom adlo mean?

And there had been something else, too. When asked who he was, the stranger said something that had pained the man more than anything else in their conversation. Words that had inexplicably hurt to Garrett’s core.

I’m the man you’ll hate most in this world.

Elom adlo.

The man you’ll hate most.

“Who are you?” Garrett begged. But there were no answers to be had.

A bit from Smyle

Eyes still closed, Garrett muttered, “Less than a day now.”


“I don’t know where we search. I don’t know what we do. There are no loose threads. There’s nothing left to chase.”

Murphy’s head sank down on his chin. “I don’t know either.”

Somewhere in the high grass, a red crossbill chirp chirp chirped and goats stamped at the mud from a light overnight rain. From a horse trailer, a few mares set to be sold down near Dillon shuffled as best they could manage. The whole place smelled of sweet hay and mustard seed gone wild. Miles away, the smog over the Flats was just starting to take shape under the dawning light. It was as beautiful a morning in the outskirts of the city as they could ask for.

Garrett opened his eyes, and Murphy started talking again.

“So Duncan. He dealt a few blocks away from me, I want to say… mmm… Colton Street.”

“Murphy, I don’t want to listen to a story.”

The ghost continued, never quite breaking his rhythm. “I say friend, but really, he was just more or less an acquaintance, know what I mean? Didn’t have too many friends in those days. Not real ones.

“Anyways. Old Montayne, he used to get up every morning like a machine, getting’ out there and dealin’ about six every morning. Till one day, he just didn’t. Nobody thought much about it. People dropped out from time to time, or moved on, or got picked up and no one noticed. Montayne could’ve been one of those guys. A ghost.” Murphy smiled. “I thought that’s what happened to him, but a few months on, I’m taking my boy to the grocery store. Couldn’t go in there alone anymore. Owners knew me, had my picture up. Their employees, they knew I dealt, but if I brought in Eggar – he couldn’t have been more than two or three – no one said a peep to me. I could slip a few samples around, shake a few hands, and all the while, I’d just be looking like I was shoppin’ for diapers or something.

“Except that day Eggar really did need… shit, something. Maybe it really was diapers, or food, or something. Nah, wait, it definitely was diapers. Anyways, point is, I’m down to almost nothing in my wallet. I don’t mean broke-” Murphy made air quotes with his fingers “-but broke. I could either pay off the cop walking my beat that day, or I could buy Eggar diapers. And I’m such a rat bastard, I’m thinking if I steal some dish towels, maybe I can tie them around his waist with rubber bands or something.” He caught Garrett’s look and bowed his head. “Ain’t proud of it, Garrett. You know that.”

“I know. It’s just hard to reconcile you to that guy sometimes.”

“It’s been a long, long trip,” Murphy agreed. “So I’m standing there. I got the rags in my hand, but something pulls me back to the kids’ aisle. And I’m looking between the diapers and the rag, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Jesus, am I really gonna do this to my own kid?’ And the truth is… yeah. I know I was.

“And here comes Montayne, shuffling down the aisle. He’s clean, I realize. I don’t mean from the drugs – dude was actually allergic to heroin, and not much else was worth pushing those days. I mean, he was in a suit. He’d shaved. Badly, but he’d shaved. His hair was done up with this rubber band, and he kinda looked like a pirate. Truth be told, I kinda thought it was a little bit rad.”

Garrett sighed, wishing he’d get to the point. “Murphy, we’ve got no time for this.”

“You, more than anyone else, know time doesn’t really matter, does it? We got all the time in the universe, brother. And this is important. Because I know what you’re thinking, and you’re not doing it, you asshole.”

Garrett got up, dusting off the ass of his jeans, and Murphy joined him.

As they headed back towards the silo, Murphy kept going. “So I barely recognize him. Montayne, though, he knows me. Everybody knew me. Better or worse. He stops and he says to me, ‘Don’t.’ I play innocent, like I don’t know what he’s talking about, but the old man, he just shook his head and started on down the aisle.

“I grabbed his arm, and I asked him, ‘Where ya been, Monty?’

“Montayne, he just looks at me, and there’s sadness there. Maybe for him, maybe for me, maybe for all of it. I don’t know. He took my baby up out of the cart, and he held him up there, not really playing with him, just sorta looking at Eggar. Finally Montayne puts him back and says, ‘Who do you want him to see? The man, or the devil?’”

Garrett waited for more as they approached the big front door. He dug for his keycard and half-turned as he swiped it to unlock the bunker’s first entrance. “And?”

Murphy glanced towards the west, sucking in his cheeks before answering. “It took me a long time to figure out I wanted Eggar to see the man.”

Ignoring the service elevator, they started down the long spiraling stairwell to the intelligence room. A few people shuffled here and there, but most everyone was either out in the field or glued to a computer and a phone. Somewhere down one of the halls, Garrett heard Stephanie talking to someone, but he still had trouble facing his sisters. The shame tore at him. Instead, he asked Murphy, “Was there a point to that story?”

The ghost jumped down the rest of the flight of their stairs and turned to face Garrett. “That’s the day I realized I really like suits.”

If it was a joke, he wasn’t smiling.

On Hallowed Lanes – Lost Scenes, 2 of 2

Continuing from my last post, the following is a snippet from On Hallowed Lanes that I wanted to keep and share. Again, spoilers ahead for Band of Fallen Princes, so read that first.

On Hallowed Lanes suffered from a bit of an identity crisis. I meant to set out with it actually containing a minimal amount of violence, as it was meant to be primarily a road trip novel first, a bit of a “what comes after?” romance novel second, and at a distant third was a bit of the supernatural. Unfortunately, a rickety side story derailed most of the flow of the novel, and dragged it down from mediocre to just plain bad. That said, there are still elements of the novel I wanted it to be, and none so much defines that as this scene, when our heroes are making their exit from Calgary after a four or five day stay. Enjoy!

* * *

They passed out together in a heap of sheets and blankets, Garrett’s arm draped over her. This time, it was his snoring that kept her awake for a very long time, but she didn’t mind. Lord knew he endured it enough times for her.

The story had made her giggle, and she whispered to him all the reasons she loved him, and there were many. Sometime early in the morning, Brianna finally fell asleep, only to wake once to a vision of him standing at the window, nude, muttering to himself. It sounded as though he was having a conversation with someone. Tibaldo or Virgil, she assumed, come back with something they’d forgotten to tell him. She mumbled for him to come back to bed, but sleep washed back over her before she knew if he did or didn’t, and in the morning, she’d forgotten the whole thing.

* * *

Their morning was dominated by a pair of titanic hangovers, but after a simple breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and what seemed like a few pounds of bacon, they both felt marginally better. Armed with travel mugs of a dark roast, they made their way to their last stop in Calgary, the Olympic Park.

Both of them were fans of mini-golf, and were surprised to find there was an eighteen hole course overlooking the Rockies. Garrett said, “Bri, I’m happy to do whatever you want, but the way I feel, could we do that first? I think if I went ziplining right now, my head would explode.” Since she’d just taken two more aspirin for her own splitting headache, Brianna agreed.

They wound up playing just behind a family from Calgary, who made the trip up to the Olympic Park every year. The couple – the woman about the same age as Brianna, the man maybe twenty-two or twenty three – tried to let them play through when their rambunctious little ones started dueling with their putters, but Brianna and Garrett were so amused by their antics that they just wound up playing together.

The father – Lorne – looked as exhausted as Garrett felt, and kept stealing unhappy glances at his children. A couple of times, the wife – Jenna – took his hand and whispered something in his ear. Lorne would nod, smile tersely, and return to his cheerful self, never once letting his children see the worry or doubt in his eyes.

Lorne and Jenna’s children told Garrett and Brianna they had to go to “Dumbbeller” (or Drumheller, as Jenna corrected them gently) to see the dinosaurs. Their plans weren’t firmed up yet, though they’d been thinking of heading west to Banff instead of east. But the children’s enthusiasm was so infectious that Garrett grinned at Brianna, shrugged his shoulders, and she responded in kind. What the heck, those glances said. Brianna exchanged numbers with Jenna so they could send the kids a picture of the dinosaurs.

Unexpectedly, Garrett said as they prepared to part, “You mind if we all got a picture together? The four of us? And your kids?” Brianna raised an eyebrow at this. Garrett liked having his picture taken with anyone but her as much as he liked a colonoscopy. The others agreed cheerfully, though the strain in Lorne’s voice was audible. This was not a man who’d been expecting kindness today, and it was weighing him down.

They roped in a passerby into taking their pictures with their cellphones. Garrett wrapped an arm around Lorne’s shoulders like they were old friends, drawing a real look of surprise from Brianna until she saw the flicker of his hand after the shot, slipping the bills into Lorne’s back pocket with ease. The couple glanced back bemusedly over their shoulders as they headed for a rundown sedan.

Brianna linked arms with him as they watched the family take off. “You’re the best man I know.”

“That guy was in a hard spot,” Garrett said quietly. “Might have just fed an addiction. But those kids’ clothes were a size too small, Jenna was wearing yesterday’s jeans, and given the way Lorne’s stomach was growling, I’m guessing he hasn’t eaten since yesterday at least. They were saving pennies in every way possible. You don’t come to a place like this with your kids if you’re doing that. Something was wrong. Really wrong.” He turned to Brianna. “When I borrowed your purse to dig for gum, I borrowed what you had in cash. We’ll hit up an ATM later and-”

She dropped her purse on the ground and whipped her arms around his shoulders, kissing him hard for a good long minute, her eyes open as she studied his face. When she pulled back a little, she said quietly, “I love you.”

“I’m pretty fond of you too.”

* * *

After a quick zipline down the mountain, they were both ready to pack it in and head east. They passed back through the edge of Calgary, stopping for gas, snacks, and a lengthy tour of a bookstore’s sidewalk sale, where Brianna stocked up on a few trashy romance novels and a new thriller from Emily Carpenter.

Brianna stowed her books in the rapidly dwindling space behind their seats, and shut the door. Garrett was on the other side, taking in the sign for a Tim Hortons on the other side of the street. “Okay,” Brianna said, and thumped the top of the SUV. “To Dumbbeller we go.”

But Garrett didn’t move. It took her a moment to realize it, but he was shaking. It was so minute that she thought at first it was a trick of her eyes. Blurriness caused by the day’s heat, perhaps. But no, he was shaking. “Garrett?” she asked. He didn’t answer, and she came around the side of the car. “Hey, what’s up?”

“I…” He turned to her, pale, his forehead glossy with sweat. “I don’t want to leave.” His voice was small, a child crying for a sweet, and her heart rose and broke and rose again, all in the space of time it took to grasp his hands. There were no words to say. Their time there in Calgary was past. After a while, his chin dipped just a little, an acknowledgement that they had to go, had to leave this bubble in time behind.



Chapter 13


Brianna expected the call days later, perhaps when one of the couple was emptying their pockets while doing laundry. But they were only an hour away from Calgary, Garrett’s mood still fixated on the fast-coming future.

“Hello?” Brianna said, tucking her book under her armpit.

“How did you know?” Jenna asked, her voice thick as syrup. Crying. She was crying.

“We didn’t.”

“Don’t tell me this wasn’t you. The photograph, right?”

“It wasn’t.”

There was a long pause, and Jenna breathed so quietly she could hardly hear, “We were going to have to go to a shelter. Just for a little while, until Lorne could land on his feet or I could find something better than temp work.”

Garrett glanced at Brianna and she nodded imperceptibly. He focused back on the road again, though his eyes flickered occasionally to the back seat. His hallucinations, she thought. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

“I know what it must seem like, us going to the park like that-”

“No. You don’t explain anything to me. Your lives are your lives. You gave your kids a good memory to hang onto. That’s not…” Brianna was crying now. “You just don’t explain yourself to me, that’s all.”

Jenna was silent for a much longer period of time, and Brianna thought she’d hung up. “If you’re really serious about heading for Drumheller, will you do it? Send them a picture? When we’re okay again, I want to have it developed. So they have something to remember you by.”

“Of course,” Brianna whispered. “Goodbye, Jenna. God bless.”

* * *

Among the hills of Drumheller, Brianna and Garrett cozied up under an enormous dinosaur, its jaws wide. Together, they smiled at the camera as though the world wasn’t a broken place, as though the kids they were posing for would live beautiful, rich lives full of happiness, never wanting for anything, that the cash they gave their parents would sprout and grow and solve all their problems. They smiled for the lie all youth are told – that kindness and goodness are enough to change the world.

Five minutes later, as they held each other sitting on the edge of a nearby fountain, a text came through, the last one they’d ever get from Lorne or Jenna. “Angels.”

On Hallowed Lanes – Lost Scenes, 1 of 2

While I still think there’s hope for Excision, I’ve been rereading On Hallowed Lanes in the hopes that maybe I can see a way of salvaging it. Honestly, it’s not in the cards, and that disappoints me. There are snippets, however, I don’t want to just let slide into nothingness, especially this one. It’s really only one of two scenes I think mattered in that whole novel.

Spoilers ahead for Band of Fallen Princes – in order to set this up, I need to talk about certain events that cap that novel off. If you haven’t read it and intend to, turn back now. Otherwise, here’s a quick catch-me-up.

This takes place during the late afternoon/early evening of the first day of Garrett and Brianna’s honeymoon. They were waylaid by bad weather, and have sought shelter for the night. Enjoy!

* * *

It only took them three minutes to find the key. Around the side of the house was a set of old wooden benches topped by a variety of withered potted plants. Under the third pot was a key duct taped to the bottom. She ripped it off and carefully made her way back through the puddles to Garrett.

After a quick high-five, she tested the key in the lock, but hesitated before she opened the door. “You’re sure no one’s around?”

Garrett nodded. “Took a look in the windows. Mail’s stacked on a table, and there’s a cobweb in a door frame. There’s an antique clock that’s stopped too, but that’s not a sure bet.”

She grinned. “Even without your better half, you’re still pretty good at this.”

“Thanks, I try.”

Inside, they checked beside the front and back entrances to make sure there wasn’t a home security system. The walls were bare but Garrett warned Brianna that if the cops came, they should just tell them the truth – they needed to get out of the weather and fully intended on leaving behind some money for the trouble.

“Should we be careful about fingerprints?”

Garrett shook his head. “We’re protecting ourselves against Mother Nature. At most, we’d get slapped with a misdemeanor.”

The interior had last been redone perhaps in the seventies, with wood paneling in the living room and a plush carpet struggling to identify itself as either orange or brown. Two well-worn couches covered in crocheted blankets and more modern throws faced a small flat-screen TV, ringed with a selection of mostly comedy and romance DVDs. A large wood stove squatted in one corner, its ugly black exterior contrasted somewhat by a pair of beautiful antique brass lamps beside it.

In the master bedroom was a queen-sized bed covered in a light blue comforter and a quilt that looked to be handcrafted. A picture on the singular nightstand was of an older couple, her with a tangled swirl of frizzy white hair and a twinkle in her eye, him with a half-formed smile that seemed to speak volumes about his hesitance about the rollercoasters in the background. Reflexively, Brianna lifted it up and blew a minute layer of dust off the picture. There, she thought. That’s how it should be.

If the living room’s general décor spoke of the seventies, another bedroom seemed taken straight from a photograph of the era. A rainbow-colored denim-lined armchair sat underneath a bronze reading lamp, flanked by an end table loaded with books – Bernard Malamud, Stephen King, thin volumes of Vonnegut, and Judith Rossner. Some of the volumes looked as though they’d fall apart if they touched them. A short coffee table loaded with textbooks on biology and math sat at the foot of the bed. Decoupaged Christmas ornaments hung from the ceiling at random intervals. Though kind of ugly, it was obvious some care had gone into their creation. Several pictures on the walls showed a young woman with a pair of kids and the older couple from the master bedroom.

A third bedroom looked to be a much younger woman’s room. A faded E.T. poster on the wall and a pair of well-worn Care Bears on a shelf jarred with the rest of the room, which seemed much more modern than the other two bedrooms. A computer maybe ten years out of date was pushed against one wall on a rickety old drafting desk, and stacks of high fantasy and romance novels bulged out of bookshelves and on stacks on every conceivable surface.

In the kitchen, a calendar on the wall showed a number of dates throughout the last half of June and the earliest parts of July circled off, with a big X on the sixth. There was only one note in the circles – “VACAY!” Garrett grinned and tapped it. “We’re good.”

In the split-level basement was a wall covered in dress hats – fedoras, pork pies, Stetsons, bowlers, even a large sombrero. Much of the furniture down there was stacked to one side and covered in sheets, save for a pool table and a tan loveseat. Brianna plucked a flat-brimmed boater hat off the wall and tried it on before she spun and winked at Garrett. “Whaddya think?”

“Hmm. I like it. Needs less clothes, though.”

She took off the hat and they returned upstairs. Garrett checked the windows to see if the storm was abating and jumped back a foot when a blade of lightning seemed to strike the moment he glanced out. “I think we’re stuck here for the night,” he grumbled.

Brianna glanced around at the worn furniture and the pictures on the wall, at the evidence of a family through the generations. Even as she vaguely understood that they would never grow old together, not with the work he did, she wished for nothing else but to be this couple, to live to see their grandchildren together. “Could be worse,” she said, reaching for his arm. “I kind of like it.”

* * *

Brianna started a fire in the old stove in the living room while Garrett brought in their luggage. “Freaking Montana,” she muttered as she lit the balled-up newspaper under the kindling. “Have to start a fire in June.”

As Garrett set about scrubbing the carpets where they’d tracked in mud – an eternal neat freak, he felt guilty about it and wouldn’t let it go – Brianna wandered through the house a second time, looking at all the photos.

The earliest ones, most of which were hung in the master bedroom, depicted the older couple as fresh-faced and were in black-and-white. He was round-faced, earnest-looking, and in every picture with his wife, he looked a little pleasantly confused, as though he couldn’t figure out why the woman on his arm was with him. She was almost always smiling or laughing, and in several they were giving each other smooches while glancing askance at the camera.

In later pictures, a little squirt of a baby joined them, chubby and either squalling or smiling. She grew up rapidly in the photos, first as a teeny toddler in a dress that hung down to her feet, then later as a determined child atop a rusty bike on the dirt road leading to the home. In her teenage years, the pictures depicted her as more serious and almost always with a book nearby. In one, the photographer caught the teenager without makeup, her nose almost pressed to a window, her breath fogging the pane, a mug in one hand and a pair of glasses in her other.

Then the woman was older, her hair longer, her frame filling out rapidly. Pregnant, but there was never a man in the photographs. Just the young woman, either alone, with female friends, or with the parents. In a hospital bed, looking exhausted but happy, holding a squalling baby in a white cap. Then, without much of a break, another shot of her late into another pregnancy, then holding another baby, somehow even happier than the first shot.

The two children, a boy and a girl, started to grow up in the pictures. Brianna guessed the young mom had taken over the role as photographer in the family. She showed up in the shots infrequently, looking a bit wearier but no less happy. The children, a chubby long-haired boy and a wire-thin girl with her grandmother’s mischievous smile, were often at play or posing goofily for the cameras. There was one last shot of them with the young woman, perhaps at a Christmas pageant or something. The woman was wide-mouthed, caught forever in the midst of saying something, and the girl was laughing while the boy posed like a body-builder, growling at the camera while he flexed.

The mother was in no more photos after that.

Brianna wandered around, sure she’d missed something, but no. In later photos, the children grew up, the boy into a serious-looking man rarely without a sport coat, the girl into a plump woman almost always with her grandmother in tow, the both of them laughing. The grandfather disappeared from the photographs too, and that was sad, but that was the natural order of things. The mother, though, was just… gone. No more laughter. No more wonderment. No more of anything. Just the grandmother and her daughter’s children.

Brianna began to weep silently, unsure as to why. As Garrett called for her, she returned to that last photograph, pressed her fingers to her lips, and brought them to the glass.

Garrett came to her, and she wrapped her arms around him, unable to explain to him why she was crying. “Make love to me,” she whispered to him, taking Garrett by the hand and leading him towards the grandchild’s bedroom. Not the woman’s. That place was sacred, and belonged to this family alone.

Legally Blind #15 – Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I thought it was an appropriate time to write about two Montana organizations that have helped me through my legal blindness in different ways. I don’t want anyone to feel left out here – there’s a laundry list of family members, friends, coworkers, and various other individuals throughout the years who have given me more than I have any right to take, and to them I’m also eternally grateful. But I’ve had both these organizations on my mind lately, so hey, how about a blog about them?

The first is an organization you should look up if you have a low-vision family member in the state. Even if they’re not totally blind, Blind and Low Vision, a department within the state’s vocational rehabilitation program, helped me through a lot of my hardest times by providing me with education and gadgetry support when I needed it for work and my home life. When I talked endlessly about traveling to Denver and going to the Center for the Blind, they were the ones who were able to make that happen. When I needed to learn to walk with a cane, they taught me the basics. When I needed magnifiers for work, or specialized programs back before magnifiers became standard on computers, they helped.

It’s not a charity, which I can appreciate. Blind and Low Vision wants you doing something. The training they provide is to help get you off the couch and into the work force, or at least living a good life as free of assistance as possible with your particular limitations. I’ve worked with a handful of representatives throughout the years, and all of them have been kind, hardworking individuals who aren’t paid a hundredth what they deserve for their efforts. They make 150 mile trips to come to White Sulphur to visit clients. They listen. They work within their means to help.

Without them, I’m not sure I’d have six books on the market. I certainly wouldn’t have the confidence I have now in going completely blind someday.

The other organization, sadly, is in the process of being stripped to its very barest of bones thanks to Montana’s huge deficit problem. The Montana Talking Book Library program was one of the first to see painful cuts, and I’m worried they haven’t seen the last of them.

They provide the blind with large audio readers, about the size of a small cassette player, but much heavier. The buttons are huge and well-defined, and the audio quality is fantastic. The “tapes” they send look a bit like a plastic cartridge wrapped around a USB drive, and require no effort to get them playing, something I can’t boast of the statewide regular library audio program – Overdrive is a pain sometimes in conjunction with iPods.

I’m not sure if the audio versions are the same used used for “regular” audio books, as many times, it’s mentioned by the reader at the end that the recording was made for libraries for the blind. That said, by and large, the readers are at least passable and often range into greatness. I love to listen to their books while I”m cleaning or playing what I all “podcast games,” which are just video games that don’t require a lot of attention, so I can drift away into the gameplay and listen to my book on tape peacefully.

From what I understand, most, if not all, states have similar programs to these. If you or your loved ones have low vision, they’re worth at least a call to see if you qualify. Take advantage of the opportunities out there to help yourself to your feet, and entertain yourself with a free program.

Thank you, Blind and Low Vision and Montana Talking Book Library. You folks are awesome.

And to the rest of you, in case I don’t get a chance to say it, happy Thanksgiving! Hope you’re enjoying Forever and Farewell.