The following excerpt is a sneak peek at the new novel by:
The Iterations of Caroline, out in February from Shuniah House Books. David (our narrator) and Caroline find themselves navigating Earth in different versions of the universe, pursued by Caroline’s ex-husband, who’s intent on killing them. In the episode below, David and Caroline are in different universes, and David has journeyed from Thunder Bay to the Pacific Coast of North America in the hope of finding Caroline again.
The Iterations of Caroline
The drive to Tulalip took less than fifteen minutes. In the casino, a set of totem poles stood in the center of the lobby. According to the explanations, at the top of the Story Pole, an eagle folded its wings around a creature with the head of a wolf and the body of a man. The creature symbolized all living things, human and wild, and the process of their transformation. It told the story of a time when humans and animals spoke the same language and shared the same culture.
A memory hung just beyond my ability to call it forth. What the hell had drawn me to the casino? It had been a mistake to come. A conviction grew that something dangerous was going to happen.
I was just about to leave when I remembered the dream—the jogger in Toronto at the beach, who’d said, “Look for the signs.” And the woman on the roof, who looked like Caroline, had said something about the brush wolf and the streetcar. Here I stood in a place I had no reason to be, looking at a pole topped with the animal of my fevered dream
I hadn’t seen the hostess approach. “Thanks, but no.”
“Magnificent, isn’t it? I see it every day, and every day I find something different in it.” She stared up at it.
“What do you see today?”
“Today?” She thought for a moment. “Today my feet are hurting because of the heels they make me wear, and one of my kids has a fever and I’m worried about that, and all the lights and the sounds in the casino make this whole place seem unreal. I’m tired and I’ve got hours to go yet. Today, the totem is something solid, made of wood by someone who had something to say. It’s the most important thing in this whole place.”
“Wasn’t there a sculptor who said he never made anything out of stone? He just chipped away to let what was inside it get out?”
“Michelangelo. He’d have liked this. Let me know if you change your mind.” She left.
I looked up at the totem again. Metaphor, Dr. Singh had said. Was the wolf turning into a man, or the man into a wolf? Would the transformation end up with a complete wolf and a complete man? Or was the transformation complete already, the creature in its final form, neither this nor that?
In my dream, when I asked the woman on the roof where Caroline was, she’d said, “Damned if I know. I just walk them.” Them.
Maybe it was the wooden canoe outside the entrance of the casino. Maybe it was the sense that, at the ocean, change is the norm. Maybe simply because I’d never been to Ocean Shores. In any case, I wanted the water, the big expanse of the Pacific. I headed south, through Seattle and Tacoma, which hadn’t stitched themselves together in this world. Then on to Olympia, Aberdeen, and Hoquiam, each smaller than the place before.
Ocean Shores—especially by the standards of this universe—was a surprisingly robust tourist community sitting on a long strip of sand. I expected something less commercial, more stripped down. I drove south along Point Brown Avenue past bars, antique shops, galleries, restaurants, hot dog stands and homes; then I angled onto Discovery Drive which, I discovered, became Marine View Drive and took me north before it meandered into Ocean Shores Boulevard. At last, I found a respectable-looking newer franchise motel.
“Any rooms left?” I asked the clerk.
He tapped a few keys on his computer and nodded without looking at me. “Ground floor or second?”
“Do you have non-smoking?”
“Non-smoking, please, on the second floor.”
“Sorry, the only non-smoking room is on the ground floor. That okay?” He was forced to look up because I had decided to simply nod until he did.
“That’s fine,” I said, to reward him. When he finished the paperwork, I asked, “How do I get to the beach from here?”
“Go north, and when you get to West Chance a La Mer turn left. You can drive on the beach and park pretty much wherever you want. Continental breakfast,” he continued as if it somehow pertained to the beach, “is from six to nine in the Pirate’s Hall.” He pointed to a small open area behind me, its wall-mounted screen tuned to a golf channel.
“You play golf?”
“No, but a lot of our patrons do. Hope you enjoy your stay with us at Knightside.”
I’d been dismissed.
West Chance a La Mer was right where he’d said it would be. I drove onto the beach, where several hundred vehicles of all kinds sat in half a dozen crooked lines. It reminded me of pictures of Dominion Day celebrations in Port Arthur in the 1930s, when crowds of people who had no money to spend gathered at Boulevard Lake to meet friends and have picnics.
North and south of where I’d left the asphalt for sand, the lines amalgamated, thinned, broke into sporadic clusters of cars and trucks, and then became widely spaced individual vehicles. I drove until I had a long stretch of beach to myself, then I got out. From my stash of camping equipment, I fetched a folding lawn chair and sat watching the waves break on the beach.
In spite of my desire for the neverending vista of the Pacific Ocean, I’ve never been fully comfortable on an ocean beach. No matter how sunny and warm things are, no matter how far I can see, I always think about an approaching tsunami. When I drive toward a beach I note where the high ground is, in case I have to head for the hills. Most of the time I can control my fear, but when I find myself paying undue attention to the beach balls and surfboards, I know it’s time to leave. I don’t like being the kind of person who’d wrestle a beach ball away from some kid when a wave comes in and I need a life preserver.
I kept my tsunami-watching paranoia more or less under control, and then the woman and her dog came by. I saw the dog first—I couldn’t help it. It had legs like a small pony and weighed at least a hundred and fifty pounds. Its steel-grey body was easily as tall as I was—then again, I was sitting in the lawn chair. Its massive chest and grizzled, rough-hewn head gave it an aura of power. It bounded along the water’s edge like a greyhound, then stopped suddenly where a wave retreated to sniff at something left behind, then doubled back to its owner, who jogged determinedly behind.
Most dogs are single-minded when they find something to play with. Not this dog. When it saw me, it charged.
“Clarence! Stop!” the woman yelled.
The dog stopped and sat on its haunches a few feet away, looking down at me. I tried to look as unthreatening as possible. I couldn’t remember if that meant looking a homicidal dog in the eyes or playing corpse-in-a-chair. I chose to look at the owner as she approached.
“Sorry about that. I hope Clarence didn’t frighten you.” She was trim and fit, younger than Caroline, one of those early-thirties women who make all their sentences end with a gravelly drop in tone.
“No.” However, I noticed that my hands had gone, of their own accord, to guard the family jewels. As casually as I could, I moved my arms onto the armrests.
“Okay.” She spoke to Clarence. The dog got off its haunches and padded slowly toward me, nose first.
“Jesus, he’s big.”
“Irish Wolfhound. Diana.”
“You called him Clarence.”
“He’s Clarence. I’m Diana.”
“Yes, of course. Sorry. I’m—.” For a second I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to say Richard or David. “Richard Glendenning.”
“Pleased to meet you, Richard. It’s okay to pat him. He doesn’t bite. He’s just a puppy and he likes to be petted.”
If this dog wanted to be petted, I decided, I’d pet it. Clarence’s fur felt coarse.
“Wolfhounds were used to hunt wolves, weren’t they?” That used up all the knowledge I had about wolfhounds.
“In packs. His owner told me once that they were used in warfare, too, against the Romans or something. He isn’t mine, by the way—I’m walking him for a friend. Clarence thinks we’re hunting, though. It’s weird—like following a trail humans can’t see.”
She laughed a little nervously, then asked the dog, “You’re hunting now, aren’t you?” He looked at her curiously, not quite sure what he was supposed to do.
She turned back to me. “Wolfhounds were pretty well extinct by 1800 or so, but those left were bred with Great Danes, Mastiffs and Deerhounds, tailor-made to look like the original Wolfhounds but without the aggressiveness. Clarence here is really good with children. Aren’t you, Clarence?”
The dog looked at her, glanced at the water, then returned to staring at her face.
I said, “I think he wants to go back to hunting.”
“Okay, Clarence.” The dog bounded off. “He loves running with other dogs when there are some around—plus pretending to be a brush wolf hunting ferocious shellfish.”
“Been nice talking to you. See you on the return trip.” She started off after the dog.
For a while I watched her running along after Clarence. Then I closed my eyes for a moment. That was a mistake.
I woke because the sun, which had been gently lowering itself into the blue-green water of the Pacific, had suddenly disappeared. Cold air, along with the crash of waves, shocked me awake. The sun hadn’t set, but it had gone behind low, dark clouds. The wind, stronger now, blew in gusts off the ocean. I shivered. It was time to go.
I folded the lawn chair and put it in the trunk, then got in behind the wheel.
As I reached for the armrest to pull the door closed, something hit the door with the force of a brawler’s kick and slammed it shut.
I saw a snarling face at the window, paws scrabbling at the door. This wasn’t Clarence, a pretender to the title of Wolfhound. This dog was the real thing, the beast that made the Roman centurions flee. Its thick leather collar had inward-facing metal spikes.
I looked beyond the teeth to see Diana, the dog-walker, running toward the car—carrying a leash made of chain. She clipped the leash to his collar and yanked him away. She mouthed “Sorry” as the dog snarled and barked. As I watched, she pushed down on his hindquarters to force him into a sitting position. After a second or two, she shouted “Home!” They headed along the beach, the dog trotting beside her obediently.
I drove slowly across the beach to West Chance a La Mer and the Knightside Motel on Ocean Shores Boulevard. As I passed Diana and the dog she waved.
I raised a hand in reply, a little too late for her to see it. My mind was on Bernie’s credit card. I hoped it still worked in this new world.
Roy Blomstrom was born in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), Ontario. He has published poetry, stories, and essays, and his ten-minute plays have been performed locally, in Finland, and at the Brighton Fringe Festival. He is grateful for support from the Ontario Arts Council for several works, including The Iterations of Caroline. He lives and writes in Shuniah, Ontario, where every day, he stares out at Lake Superior and wonders about the universe.
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