Red Lettering excerpt

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The end was always nigh when the whale watching business closed down for the season. Tourists expected to be cold and wet when viewing nature in all its majesty, but not even the whales stayed around for the winter near the tiny town on the coast of British Columbia. In Edmonton, Colin’s hometown, winter threatened in late September and was well entrenched by mid-October. Here, the winds off the ocean kept the season temperate enough that the town could use Hallowe’en as its last great hurrah before completely closing down to tourist traffic by November second.

After a decade, Colin had been accepted as an in-law to the town. He was only thirty-five, but his bones started aching when the leaves changed, long before the chill in the air arrived. The haunted hotel on the main street-which was actually called Main Street-had been practically empty for a month. When all the summer businesses closed down one by one, it was like walking an explosive down a beam in a controlled demolition. The weight of the building above helped destroy the supports as much as the blast itself.

Colin had never actually seen a live controlled demolition, but the hero of his long-running series was an explosives expert, and if there was one thing Colin could do well, it was research. He would stay up for days at a stretch, months at a time, reading everything he could around what his character would know. Then he threw only the smallest fraction of that knowledge into the story because no one really read his stuff as a how-to.

He’d been doing so well over the summer. Since Ren had died, he had picked up a second pen name so he would always be up against a deadline. He understood he was the biggest cliché of them all, a small town recluse writer with a tragic past. But people in this small town in particular had all known and loved Ren as much as he had. He could wrap himself up in his misery until the scent of it stained his skin.

The facades of the buildings down Main Street all had to be maintained under strict zoning permits. From the outside, the Miyazaki general store appeared no different from the branded coffee chain right next door. The store sold far more specific touristy kitsch these days than anything useful. The family had originally built the store across from the hotel up near the spring by the natural pools during the turn of the last century. It had been sold off for ten cents on the dollar after Ren’s family had been interned during the second World War in a Japanese camp over a thousand miles inland in Lethbridge. During the war, the hotel had moved into town because of the gas shortage. The hot water was piped in to keep the “Springs” in the name. The old store, like the pools had dried up. When the Miyazakis came back, they’d set up shop in town, once again across the road from the New Springs Hotel.

Colin had been more furious about the injustice than Ren had. Maybe because it was new to him, and a familiar part of the landscape to Ren. Ren’s grandfather had worked every day in the store to make sure that Ren’s father could finish medical school and then he’d come back to the small town to establish the modern hospital. Colin had met Ren at school where Colin was half-heartedly studying economics, and Ren was obsessed with pinnipeds in general and the Northern Sea Lion in specifics.

The Coast Guard had found Ren just north of town, dressed in his yellow slicks and his red life preserver. Colin had been expecting the worst when he got the call to come down and identify the body. He and Ren’s mother had stood together in the small white room with the flat screen television.

Canadian movies so loved their color filters, Colin remembered thinking. He’d wanted to believe the paleness was a trick to the camera, but every bit of color was truly gone from Ren’s cheeks. No one would’ve believed he was just sleeping on the cold slab. Ren slept like the dead. That had been the joke between them. Colin hadn’t appreciated how life-like sleeping Ren really had been. His sprawl of his limbs and the slight snore he always had when he had a cold was the opposite of what Colin had seen. Ren had always been so susceptible to colds after coming back from three-day trips up north while checking on the most distant rook he had been responsible for. Ren hadn’t liked sleeping in the cabin they provided for the naturalists that had to travel to the remote island. So when he’d come back to town, he’d sleep for like eighteen hours straight. After he’d woken up, he had always been hungry for food, for sex and for his stupid reality shows that he’d mocked and yet watched religiously. Colin had often seen him curled up on the end of the couch hugging his pillows. He’d loved the fact he could see the whole floor when they redid it, but now it was too easy to see he was all alone. Ren had had the metabolism of a sparrow, consuming vast amounts of anything he could nibble on that was sweet and salty at the same time. He used to drink his weight in fizzy sodas.

Colin didn’t have to worry about diabetes any more. They’d joked that they were going to grow old together on their front porch of their small house on Third Street, two blocks north and one block south of the family home Ren had grown up in. Colin could have worked anywhere, but when a job came up in the Fish and Wildlife division in the next town over from White Springs, Ren had driven the hour in and out every day along the coastal highway. Colin had been so sure, in his morbid author way, that it would be the highway he had to worry about. But the mystery of Ren’s death hadn’t taken more for the coroner to solve than opening him up to see the damage done to his aortic valve. It was a silent time bomb befitting any of Colin’s novel plots. Most thriller heroes may have been the captain of the football team, they would never have been voted both the King and Queen of prom like Ren had. The school officials hadn’t let him run officially as Queen, even though he had a prom dress instead of a suit. He’d campaigned hard to be the write-in candidate and had loved every campy moment.

Colin hadn’t thought he’d be comfortable at all with a drag queen as his lover. He’d thought acceptance had to come with passing off as normal as possible. But Ren, who’d slept like the dead, had taught him how to scream fuck normalcy while out way too late, drunk on something that didn’t come in a bottle or from a chemical. Walking with Ren in his bare feet down the street, because his feet didn’t really appreciate his four inch clear heels as much as his fashion sense, had made Colin feel as tall as he would have been wearing the shoes in Ren’s hand. He’d loved a man who had been loud and proud and bright. Colin had loved every second being beside a man who wore a drab green uniform to work but had the pants tailored to show off his ass, and owned nineteen pairs of dancing shoes.

It had been seven years, but Colin felt like he was still only waiting for Ren to wake up.

The town had been made up for Hallowe’en, with pumpkins and hay bales and child-friendly spooky motifs. Colin didn’t look through any glass that could show him a reflection. He didn’t know if catching a glimpse of Ren’s really strong jawline that needed to be contoured to appear as though he’d gone under a surgeon’s blade, was better or worse than not seeing anyone at all beside himself. Ren had taken up all the oxygen in the room. Colin hadn’t minded. He could have lived off the excess O2 Ren had exhaled.

He passed another witches’ brew with perfect orange silk leaves scattered about. Unlike the American small towns in the movies, any leaves left this late were either shriveled in the gutter or made in a foreign sweat-shop and scattered about in shop windows for effect. The ocean wind had taken most of the real leaves weeks ago. The hardwood trees with their barren branches appeared dead. The evergreens were true to their name, but their needles were brittle and freeze-dried. In the summer the town was a real, vibrant green and the tourists arrived by the busload. The air felt alive, like Ren was going to step through the door at any moment. In the fall, all Colin remembered were funeral plans and ceremonies.

excerpt from Red Lettering

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