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© By Gary Morton
The summer sun sailed high in the haze and as I got out of the Ford in Leaside, a jungle-humid breeze began to melt me to sticky ice cream. Jimmy C was already halfway across the softened asphalt lot, taking long legged steps and waving for me to follow. I did but my feet moved with reluctance. Excitement over small things didn't move me like it did him.
Experience in politics and a weak heart made enthusiasm something the fates couldn't deliver. My instincts were telling me things would go wrong and as usual, I turned out to be right.
At the corner, I stopped to pat my brow with a handkerchief. Looking to Jimmy I asked him if the new office had air conditioning.
“Yeah it does, Roger,” he said. “I made sure of that. The place is a dump all right, but that's all you wanted. It has a back entrance that’s hard to find. You'll be able to get in and out without being hassled.”
“Best of all it's in Leaside,” I said. “I need an office in the riding, even if I rarely use it. I'm tired of the papers pointing out that I don't live on my home political turf.”
“A lot of people don't like parachute candidates. It's only natural that they feel an outsider wouldn't be good as their provincial member of parliament.”
“I'm not an outsider. I lived in Leaside all my life, and then the fewer politicians committee redrew the boundaries and put my house and office outside of the riding.”
“Why didn't you oppose the change? You had the time.”
“It was a mistake. I wasn't paying attention because it was part of our re-election strategy. We agreed to a reduction of the number of politicians. Here in Leaside, we managed to dump the gay, tenant and public housing area over onto liberal turf and I got more homeowners. It put two thousand more core Conservative votes in my pocket and it did work. Now I'm re-elected but I don't live in my home riding as the changes put me outside it by one street. I missed that detail. Worst part of it is that all elected politicians in my new neighborhood are damn liberals and the Toronto Star says I didn't have the courage to run against any of them.”
“I hate liberals, too,” Jimmy C said, a pissed look souring his long horsy face. Then we walked around the corner and found ourselves right in the middle of a crowd of liberal protesters.
They were screaming my name and something about schools and hospitals we planned to close and the banks of slot machines I’d put in at the community centre. Jimmy threw out his long arms to hold them back, but a frizzed-out woman knocked him in the balls and as he went down a junkie intellectual type wearing a marijuana leaf T-shirt burst through and bopped me on the crown with a cardboard picket sign.
My vision started to spin and my ears rang like a phone. I could see the sun and this huge burger joint sign ballooning in the haze as I staggered back. Car horns blared. I stepped off the curb and my heart suddenly felt like it was going to pop. I went down on one knee. Pouring sweat blinded me and I saw the angry face of this pretty, young blond girl as she spat right on my new white shirt.
At that point, I did something crazy. I stood up and started to run, right to the centre of the street and through the honking traffic. I got off the road at the corner and stumbled into the parking lot. Looking back, I saw about twenty people pursuing me, but I managed to keep ahead and at the car, I jumped in and locked the doors.
A squabble developed between Jimmy C and the protesters, but I couldn't even look. Heat and waves of dizziness were on me as my heart provided the scene with a hip-hop beat. It was all I could do to keep from vomiting so I grimaced and hung on until Jimmy C settled things and got back to the car.
Jimmy C slammed the door. He tossed back his mop of hair and cleared his throat as he got the air conditioning started. “Thought I wasn't going to get away alive,” he said. “I had to make a couple promises for you.”
“Promises. What promises?”
“Just that you’ll pull those slot machines out of the community centre and do some work on their behalf on a couple of those other issues.”
“Yeah, and I suppose they call that democracy. Shouting, spitting, bullying and assaulting elected representatives.”
“I don't know if it's democracy. Maybe if they voted to string us up at City Hall someone would say it was democracy. And why is everyone hollering about democracy? That's what they were shouting at me – it wasn't democracy when you just put those slot machines in there without consulting the public.”
“We have a majority government, Jimmy. And we are forging ahead to tear down inefficient societal organisms and restructure our way to a better Ontario. Consulting the public is a just a way for special interest groups to get in the door and run things. There's a broad silent majority out there supporting our work.”
“Maybe so, but I prefer people who show support and say thanks over those who remain silent. Those special interest protesters may be idiots but they're smart enough to know that if they're out there and in your hair all the time, they'll at least get some of what they want.”
In the early afternoon, I decided to step out in the yard and almost immediately began choking on smog. The sun glared down and I felt somewhat helpless like a chicken under an oven light. Often during such moments of weakness, I wished I hadn’t voted against smog controls.
To escape the roar and exhaust I strolled around back and sat by the pool in the shade of an oak. Patches of algae, gold slime and fallen leaves floated on the water. It'd got so swampy I saw a frog hopping near the edge.
The pool, a gift from a grateful developer, went unused now that the kids were gone. Staring at the greening soup, I sipped gin and contemplated my family situation. Maggie, my wife, had gone to her fitness club. That was her official word but I suspected her of meeting with a boyfriend. She would probably never see to cleaning the pool. That had been my son Danny's job. He used to dip in it every day up until a month ago when I disowned him. I had thought him a model child, then his grades dropped to Cs and he got filmed smoking pot with a socialist city councilor at a gay nude beach. By the horrifying standards of the media, it was okay to smoke pot in the nude with socialist fags. The issue that put Danny on the City TV six o'clock news was a fight. He’d socked another guy in a nude scuffle. Since he was in Grade 12 and I was promoting a zero tolerance policy toward youth violence they seized on it and used it to embarrass me politically.
I disowned him when he refused the treatment offered by the local parent council. Ostensibly, it was over the violence. In reality, I'd wept then when I found out my kid had been fraternizing with socialist fags. It also shook my faith in zero tolerance. At least in fighting he'd shown signs of being a man, and our society wanted that discouraged. Nowadays fags are behind the scenes running special interest groups and pulling the strings everywhere - politicians can't fight them, instead they have to march with them in the yearly pride parade.
So Danny left and we still had Mary, but that only lasted for two weeks. The media struck again and she appeared in a community newspaper, confessing to having lost her virginity in a barn while returning on a bus from a Conservative youth convention. I kicked her out for that. She moved into an apartment and when she came to my office as a representative of tenants, I kicked her out again. It wasn't just because she'd damaged her reputation and the Party. As an individual, I've never liked sex and it bothers me to have that scandal hanging over me.
Slumping in my chair, I sighed and let my head hang. I looked down at my crotch and the bulge made by my limp dick. Lack of a sex life probably aided my weak heart greatly, and overall the flaccid organ was my secret weapon. Male politicians went down in sexy scandals all the time, and I was immune. The old limp dick was worth more than its weight in gold.
I decided that limp rewritten as lame would probably describe my life in general. I had no family life left and my backyard now belonged to pond scum, weeds and Sylvester, my wife's twenty-pound cat. Grimacing I watched him prowl near the fence, figuring I hated him as much as I hated my kids. He got fat because I tried to kill him by overfeeding him. When Maggie brought Sylvester in as a kitten, I gave him mashed potatoes and gravy and stuff straight from the garbage grinder. But Sylvester never got sick. He just got bigger, fatter and hungrier. He was a politician of cats. Now he could grunt like a pig and even big dogs backed away from him.
In mid afternoon Jimmy C’s silver Ford rolled up the driveway. I was sitting there sweating teardrops and feeling a sense of loss. He waved and I got in the car, not even bothering to ask him where we were going. Jimmy C rocked his head to an old pop song playing on the radio and took the scenic route through Leaside. That consisted of one central boulevard before he swerved in to scare a street kid and then turned down Leaside Court where the view changed to a snakes-and-ladders jumble of ramps and freeways feeding industrial parks. In this central part of Leaside you had the feeling of continually driving past the same dull block. No sense of community just far flung squares of Frankenstein-big factories, apartment buildings and out of the way condos.
The car swung right as we reached the sprawling Nestle Foods complex, then we cruised down Dun Street. We passed a stinky cereal mill and headed into the block's residential section. Massive high-rises towered like fortifications over narrow concrete streets. We saw a few pedestrians on canopied front yards, some half-naked kids playing baseball in the street, and not much else.
I didn't care for this sort of neighbourhood or any community that was mostly tenants. A pang of regret hit me in the old weak ticker. Leaside could've been something a lot better than huge industrial islands isolated by freeways. And it would've been better if a dishonest politician hadn't supported so much bad planning. Being that dishonest politician made it even more painful.
A sprinkling of small cottage-style houses appeared and brought me some comfort. I sat back and looked around a bit, and then I began to wonder where we were going. Half of the time, I didn't know where we would be from one day to the next. The other half of the time, I didn't even know where we were or who we were addressing. Politics and gin does that to you.
“By the way,” I said to Jimmy C. “Why are we visiting Nestle? Is this a fundraising event?”
“Nope. We're driving through to Slumberdale for a look at your new riding office.”
“Oh no. Not again. I thought we gave up on a riding office. My heart's gonna fail if I have to wrestle with any more protesters.”
“There won't be any trouble. That's why I picked this isolated Slumberdale location. It's a new part of the riding. On the boundary redraw those tenants back there got dumped onto the liberals and you picked up Slumberdale.”
“I get it. Our service cuts haven't wounded anyone in Slumberdale, so we can count on the residents to be supportive.”
“Not exactly. You'll get it when we pass the barrier,” he said. And after that, we crested a pine hill and rolled down to a stop at a roadblock. A high gate and electric fence covered the road and the ditches and the main sign said - SLUMBERDALE - Access by City of Toronto Vehicles Only.
Jimmy C used a pointing device similar to a TV control, aiming it at a receiver mounted high on the empty guard post. He pressed the button and the gate for our lane swung slowly inward, revealing a steamy gravel road beyond. I remained silent and open mouthed as he eased the vehicle through. He drove slowly down the road into an odd sort of nature area. Thistle filled ditches and brush nearly choked the lanes in many spots. The mixed forest was dense and laden with deadwood and other debris.
We were headed down on a slight incline, the view ahead completely hazed out by a lake of smog. Higher up, freeways surrounded the area like a sort of twisted fencing. After about a quarter kilometer the road dipped sharply, we cut through the smog and I got a clear view of Slumberdale.
It existed in a depression, and because the freeway and industrial pollution from the whole of Leaside drifted over the place, it would nearly always be hidden from view. The sunlight filtered through in a slightly off color fashion. It didn't lack power and at first, I thought some of the roofs were undergoing melt from its heat. Then I got a better focus and realized that the whole place was drooping and melting. It was a tiny ghost suburb, composed of blocks of housing that would date to about the late sixties. All of it was in visibly bad shape to the point where only a bulldozer could affect any repairs. Roofs sagged like a huge web across a jungle of weeds, mounds, brush and maples. Even the streets were overgrown, the road we were on being the only visible track into the place. Needless to say, there wasn't any traffic below in regards to vehicles and pedestrians.
As a kid, I'd played in a condemned house we'd thought to be haunted. Some of the spooked feeling from that childhood memory returned, and then grew with incredible power. This place looked as hexed as any town could be. To the extent that the feeling got under my skin and I felt partly unreal. Slumberdale had been slumbering for at least thirty-five years. It seemed impossible and even more impossible that I'd been unaware of it so I turned to Jimmy C and said, “Okay, you've had your fun. So how about telling me why we're here and what in the hell this place is?”
“What, you've never heard of Slumberdale? I thought all politicians knew of it.”
“I'm a local politician, Jimmy. I've barely looked over the neighbourhood fence in twenty years. And this damn place wasn't in my riding before. So why is it now, and why am I moving my office here?”
“Calm down, Roger. Let me fill you in. Slumberdale was to be demolished during the freeway/industrial invasion of Leaside. The local residents resisted, same as in the rest of Leaside. As you may recall they lost all of those fights, and in Slumberdale, they were eventually forced out. Everyone except one wealthy lawyer named Tom James. He's ninety-five years old now and he's held the city and developers at bay for thirty-five years. Right now, he's in the hospital with a terminal illness, so my plan is to kill two birds with one stone. I already had a place put together here in your name. Now I've added the riding office to it. You are in Leaside, and government services such as mail, ambulances, etc. are provided. Protesters would likely never be able to find the address since only one back road out of Nestle leads here. Here you can do your business undisturbed. And when the old geezer croaks it will come to light that not only are you the elected representative here, but as the only living member of the registered Slumberdale Residents Association you will hold incredible power as to what is to be done in redeveloping this land.”
I'd been rising in my seat as Jimmy C finished, and I don't know whether it was wings of optimism or wings of the spooks, but I clapped him on the back and grinned so broadly I thought my face was going to be permanently disordered. “Jeeze, you're a genius, Jimmy C. We're going to be rich, rich, rich! And not only that. I'll be able to work in peace. It's only two weeks until the legislature reopens, and I've got to come up with the bones of a public relations advertising package. So I'll be in the new office most of the time.”
“Public relations ad package. What's that about?”
“As you know, we spent half a billion dollars of public money boosting ourselves before the last election. The trick is to use the public information budget to cover it up. We create new and cheap public service ads and bill the money we stole to them. It's top-secret work of course. We can't have protesters or the media breaking into my office and discovering it.”
“Certainly not. And we have security out here where no one can find you. You'll do a good job. I'll be available round the clock while you're working. Anything you want ferried in or any research you need, just call and I'll get it.”
The steep road into the Slumberdale residential area was new asphalt, and though it was smooth as glass the houses we passed were rotted shells. The paint had bleached right off of most walls. Mold stains, fungus and curtains of vine shrouded house fronts. They rose out of the weeds like the sagging upper decks of sea battered ships. One mansion with southern columns propping up its wilted porch fit the description of vintage haunted house. Cracked, darkened and cobwebby windows appeared everywhere like portholes into the ghostly unknown. There were also some areas where the houses had collapsed completely. In these lots sunbeams formed spotlights in dust and mist as they swept over the weed-covered mounds of tick-eaten wood that remained.
Raccoons were out like masked hoodlums even though it was daytime; many of them perched on cheese-holed roofs. Squirrels dashed madly through the dense foliage and wildflowers. Crickets sang and flocks of sparrows had a bat-like appearance as they flitted in high smog. Jimmy C whistled a haunting tune like he was trying to get under my skin. I felt like telling him to end it and would've if the assault on my senses hadn't been so intense. I was so amazed and dumbfounded that I couldn't speak.
Our destination was only two blocks in, yet it seemed like a kilometer. Jimmy C pulled in at a neat, canopied parking space. The open town square held a clutch of civic buildings. These were still maintained by city public works and were old stone constructions designed to pass the test of time. The central structures were the post office and village hall - stately columnar affairs that would fit nicely in an old movie.
To the right of the post office, in all gaudy glory, I saw my riding office. A huge remake of one of my re-election signs decorated the front and a celebratory welcome banner fluttered in the breeze above it. My face stared down from a poster - suave and smiling easily, neatly trimmed with features slightly aged and reddened like good wine. My blue eyes sparkling with sincerity and vision as my forehead folded in mildly serious lines. It was a poster that looked great and totally out of place in this ghost town.
“You'll be feeling at home in no time,” Jimmy C said as we got out. But I doubted that. A sort of reverse déjà vu was in the air and it gained strength as we strolled across the neatly swept square. I was certain that I'd never been to Slumberdale before and shouldn't have come. The idea of eventually working on its redevelopment should've seemed exciting. I didn't look forward to it at all.
My riding office was on the second floor, the first level being an open public lobby with a broad polished stone floor. It was lonely, furnished with an atmosphere of emptiness and echoes. Wide stairs took us up to the office and its solid oak door. Jimmy C fumbled in his pockets, looking for the key, and when he opened up we got a fresh blast from a nicely air conditioned room.
It was impressive in a functional way, containing a big grainy desk, two networked computers and some seating for visitors. A small window at the front allowed me a view of the square, and a rear door led to a private room with a kitchenette, bookshelves, couches and a blurred view of the town's shockingly deteriorated back alleys.
In the back room, I unpacked the two briefcases we'd brought out. Jimmy C pulled some gin from the fridge then we went back into the office and I sat at my desk and leaned back.
He gulped his drink as he stared out nervously at the sunny square.
“Something you don't like out there?” I said.
“It's always spooky here,” he said. “Workers come in about once a week to keep this square maintained. Other than that we're alone out here.”
“Good. Say, is that computer connected to the Internet?'
“Yes and the phone lines work. I had them put in. Cell phone connection is spotty here. No towers. Use the land lines if you have to.”
“Okay. I can start work right now. I’ll download some files and start working on brochures. Maybe make some calls and get some confidential quotes on prices for a long series of commercials for the Premier. You can pick me up at about eight. I'll give you a call. If you ring me, try my cell phone number first. I don't trust the lines to this office phone.”
“Sure, no sweat,” Jimmy said. Then he finished his drink and left.
I leaned back and stared into cool space until I heard him driving away, then my attention went to my desk and I noticed a letter in the in box. “Office mail service, too,” I thought. “I'm really beginning to like Slumberdale.”
The somewhat scuffed manila envelope was addressed to “Our Member of Provincial Parliament.” I opened it with a brass letter opener and examined a wad of thick sheets. Ornate handwriting covered a form of parchment, and a closer inspection revealed that it wasn't genuine parchment but ordinary paper so aged as to be yellowed and crumbling at the edges. The last page had an impressive collection of signatures. About one hundred in all and they were listed as the members of the Slumberdale Residents' Association.
I raised my eyebrows when I saw that and gathered it to be one of those dead letters - the sort that the post by mistake delivers twenty years late. To verify that I checked the date, and felt a postman walking over my grave when I found that it was recent.
My eyes strained with interest, I chewed on my lip and read the letter.
Greetings from the citizens of Slumberdale.
As the newly appointed head of the Slumberdale Residents' Association (SRA) we are certain that you are awaiting our guidance in regards to many important matters.
We expect that reconstruction may occur soon and in this matter, there are certain long-standing agreements that must be followed. There are items regarding bylaws and the building of roads, and there are certain historical sites, seventy in all, which must be fully refurbished by our local and provincial governments.
You will find the full details of our plan in the Slumberdale Library in the SRA files. The residents have voted on all of these matters and we are sure that as our representative you will follow the plan to the letter.
Samuel Thorold James
Secretary for the SRA
Swallowing the last of my gin in a big gulp, I wondered whether to tear the letter up or hold onto it. I tossed it in the top drawer thinking that it had to be a joke, probably one of Jimmy C's pranks. But I still felt spooked, as the letter seemed real. It was exactly the sort of thing one of those Residents' Associations would send to a politician - a plan that details their special interests, with the expectation that an honest representative would be dishonest and follow it to the letter at tremendous cost to the taxpayer. Sad, deluded people, always thinking they had the right to vote things through when the real world didn't work like that at all. Corporations and lobbyists hold the lion's share of power in society as they are always at work like a marching army using their clout to put government in their hands. Since they have the money as well as power over representatives who need it, power is theirs by default.
As I pushed my chair back my frown conveyed serious contempt, then I felt my hair beginning rise and stiffen. What was I thinking about, calling them sad and deluded people? There weren't any people in Slumberdale, unless they were ghosts. “Naw, there isn’t such a thing as a spook,” I muttered. Getting up I went over to power up the computer. Then while I waited for it to boot, I saw a strange person walking out in the square. He was a tall bony man. His ragged suit was too tight and he wore a clerical collar. His battered black hat was pulled down over his eyes, shielding his face from the sun. “Perhaps that’s Samuel Thorold James,” I thought as he slowly went up the steps to the library.
At the top of the steps, the man simply vanished in the shadows hooding the door. I stared for a moment longer and when he didn't reappear, my hand went to my chest. My heart seemed all right but I was certain it wasn't. Heart flutters had caused me mild hallucinations before and now it was happening in the worst possible situation. Usually it passed after a few minutes and I prayed it would this time. This sort of confusion in Slumberdale would probably lead to real problems.
Working at the computer, I connected to the Internet and began downloading photo sets of our elected members. I did a little copywriting, but while I worked, I was irritatingly aware of the window lurking there at the corner of my eye. This assigned task of covering for money we’d illegally spent and getting the party ready for the next election was already starting to bother me, but I was stuck with it, as I wouldn't trust anyone else with the job. After all, the people that did the work last time were some of the same ones that snuggled up to the Liberals, gave me Slumberdale and put my house out of the riding.
Using the business calendar, I put together a long-term tentative release schedule for the material, and this figuring with dates tied my head in a knot. My glance kept straying to the window. It shone - a bright white square, sort of like a window in a bizarre painting. I was tempted to stand up and look outside, yet had a strange fear that like a surreal image the window would open onto to some fantastic and impossible view.
Finally, I'd had enough, and stood up, walked over and rested my elbows on the sill. Everything appeared unchanged at first then I saw a three hundred pound whale of a woman wearing a dress like a burlap sack. She carried some sort of picket sign at the front of the town hall. The letters on it were so faded I couldn't read them. Her flowered hat and shadows covered her face. She paraded out front of the hall for a couple minutes then she walked over to the library and disappeared in the shadows there.
I took a deep breath and felt the hair on my arms bristle and crawl. Were they hallucinations or not? If they were, my doctor would want to know. A walk over to the library would bring out the truth. I could also check on those documents that the Slumberdale Residents' Association was supposed to have on file, and get a clue on who was behind the letter hoax. Perhaps that terminally ill lawyer, Tom James that Jimmy C had mentioned, still had a few tricks up his sleeve. He could easily be well enough to write letters.
I went down the stairs, my heels clacked as I crossed the empty concourse. Birds were singing out in the square but that didn't kill the spooky effect. The tangle of foliage and trees surrounding the area gave it a movie set feeling like it wasn't quite real and I was acting a simple part that had been scripted long ago.
The Slumberdale library was a much older municipal structure. A slightly tilted turret tower crowned its southern wing and I assumed it had once been a reading room. The stone front had been neatly blasted clean and the bushes trimmed by the city staff that maintained this square.
In spite of the clean appearance of the facade, I could see foliage rising like the Amazon Jungle over the rear sections. No one lingered on the front steps or in the shadows and one door was unbolted and ajar. I touched the handle and it swung open on oiled hinges, revealing an interior much like my office. The ground floor had been left completely empty only here the floor was ancient hardwood.
The library lacked an elevator, but a rickety set of stairs led up to the second floor and the reading tower. The banisters were sturdy and newly varnished but the steps creaked wickedly, like heavy boards worn in place by decades of local footsteps.
At the top, I turned left apprehensively and found myself in the stacks. Yellowed light filtered in through windows that were so grimy they were like a stained glass version of parchment. The reading area appeared empty but it was so dim I couldn't be sure. As I stepped closer, a thousand-legged bug skittered by on the spines and I struck out at it, causing a cloud of dust to rise. Choking, I got to a circular table and leaned heavily on it. My heart was pounding now and sweat beaded on my forehead.
Further exploration revealed a lot of interesting stuff but no patrons. I did find the files for the Slumberdale Residents' Association, and the last one did detail plans for preserving historical sites as mentioned in the letter. This copy was twenty-six years old. Dusting it off, I looked inside it for a clue of some sort but found none. As I turned back for the stairs, I caught sight of another set of stairs leading up to the tower. These were covered with rotting red carpeting but seemed secure. Allowing curiosity to get the better of me I went up, testing my weight on each stair before rising fully to it. At the top, I found an open room with a few shelves. A large round table was at the centre.
After dropping the thick Residents' Association file on the dusty table, I walked over to the windows. They covered the full tower circle and I was sure they would give a much better view of Slumberdale. Sunlight glowed on glass glazed by smog and cobwebs. I couldn't see a thing through them so I grabbed a portion of a linen curtain and used it to wipe a partially clean rectangle on the pane. That gave me a view of the square and a person walking below. This time it was a stout elderly woman wearing a print dress. She carried a bouquet of completely dead flowers and walked in bright sunlight with a small blanket over her face. She disappeared in mist as she approached the library and she appeared to have been heading toward the side alley leading to the back.
My face flushed as the sunlight got to me. Wondering if there were people walking about in the collapsed portions of town I walked across the room and began cleaning another window. I was partway done when I noticed it had a handle. Rust fell as I turned it and it opened inward. Breeze rushed in, lifted the curtains, and filled the room with a sweet odor of flowers and decay. Looking out I saw a few moldy roofs showing through the canopy of maples. One house almost directly below me had some clear yard areas. I could see a bur-patch backyard and a pudgy kid pushing a wobbly cart full of broken toys through it. He wore an oversize Maple Leafs sweatshirt and his baseball cap was pulled down over his face. I couldn't be sure of his age but he was likely twelve or thereabouts. He disappeared in shadows near some trees.
“Why do these damn people cover their faces with hats and stuff?” I thought, as I looked over the rest of the neighbourhood. “And where do they go when they disappear?” No immediate answer came to me. Details of the view consumed me. Battered roofs and porches presented an aged and forlorn face. Vague apparitions moved in the shadows. Old rusted-out cars and drums poked out of the leaves here and there. A cloud of white moths fluttered over one shady house. Sewer culverts protruded from broken ground. Balconies seemed to exist as containers for the abundance of wildflowers and some houses had eves and shingles overgrown with toadstools like a crusting or pizza topping. There were no other open streets but former roads were clearly delineated as wide lines of bee infested scrub and weeds. This was a case of the wild in the last stages of gobbling up a village. Its mould, vines, weeds and scrub growing and pulling down buildings with the power of weather, root and rot.
Instead of aiding my recovery, the breeze had a power of intoxication. I had a vague and paranoid fear that deadly spores from the rot were in the air and entering my blood stream. Heading back to the table, I paused to wipe the sweat from my brow, and then a power of exhaustion forced me to sit. With the heat continually baking me, the dizziness was impossible to shake and in the end, it forced me to dust off a portion of the table and rest my head on the book.
I fell into restless sleep there in the tower and experienced a period of strange dreams. Most of them were haunted visions of Slumberdale and its faceless residents. It rained hats and dogs and then in the final dream I was my old self and out campaigning in the Slumberdale square. The place had become like the rest of Leaside with a good portion of hecklers and protesters working to interrupt my public message. Turning up my microphone, I attacked them with some of my best rhetoric. Concluding with the lines. “I've always been here to represent the silent majority and not special interest groups and loud mouths. I promise you all that I will build Slumberdale for the majority, and not for people who think the government owes it to them to fund their greed and nutty projects.”
At that point, I paused to study the faces in the crowd to see if my words were hitting home. But none of the people had faces. Not ones you could see. They all had their hats pulled down to hide their features in the usual Slumberdale fashion.
I couldn't continue with my speech when I couldn't gage a reaction, and it disturbed me to the point that I woke up.
Violet hues of twilight tinted the windows and the breeze had cooled and freshened. Dizziness had not only passed, I felt invigorated by the dream. Attacking special interest groups always gave me a rush of power. And it had stuck in my mind so solidly that I stood up and finished my speech. Walking toward the windows, I hurled invective out at the descending twilight, nearly shouting at the invisible residents. “Special interests in Slumberdale, your day has come and gone! This is Leaside now, and the power of the silent majority rules! So kiss those historical sites goodbye, and kiss my royal ass, too!”
Reaching the window, I had my arms spread wide in victorious conclusion. The square was visible below and in the eerie light, I could see the entire ghostly population of Slumberdale. They had those faded picket signs that I couldn’t read, and as they looked up at me they removed their hats and showed their faces.
All of them were skulls, hung with rotting hair, skin and fangs. Maggots and burning red oozed poured from their eye sockets, and as their mouths opened, a vile form of black blood leaked and dribbled. I saw them hiss collectively and release mist through their nostrils - tendrils of ghostly white that gathered and merged as I stared.
This unearthly mass grew in size and began to rise toward me. Somehow, I knew I would choke to death on this mist, and that caused me to release a terrified scream and duck back from the window. My spine hit the table and I stood there shaking. A moment later my cell phone rang and I heard Jimmy C's voice.
“Big trouble, Roger. They're after you - a huge, nasty gang of them.”
“I know!” I shouted. “It's the silent dead majority! The ugliest special interest group of all is coming for me!”
“What?” Jimmy C said as I panted. “It's not the silent dead majority. It's the living majority of your neighbors. They've surrounded your house and your son and daughter are the agitators. We want you to stay there in Slumberdale until the protest blows over. I'll drive out and get you in the morning.”
“No!” I shouted desperately. “You've got to help me now! I can't stay here!”
Then a burst of fuzz hit the connection and it went dead. The cell phone dropped from my hand to the table as new waves of terror and confusion shook me. I could see mist gathering like a dark sponge at the window, blotting out the twilight. As it shifted to form some bright lines and patches, a face of death appeared on the panes. Hideous and huge, this thing was some sort of ghastly apparition, yet it had substance enough to seethe wetly against the glass, causing droplets the color of blood to run in the dust.
I felt so tiny that being face to face with a tornado would have been less frightening. Yet there was no danger of a heart attack as my blood had simply frozen in my veins. When it did begin to flow again it had slowed like molasses.
It took all of my willpower to shake off the paralysis and move my arm. Clenching my fist, I pounded it down on the table, and at that moment, I came unstuck. The looming phantom seemed about to strike through the gore smeared pane as I staggered back. Certain that it had the power to break through the glass I ran to the door, out, and down the stairs. Once in the stacks, I hurried down an aisle toward the other set of stairs.
Sudden cacophony echoing up brought me to a halt. I grabbed the banister to keep from tumbling. Something crashed behind me. Turning I saw a bookshelf splitting open - rotted parchment and dust spilling out in a tremendous cloud. Beetles of some sort formed black specks in the cloud and heavy objects thumped on the carpet.
One of them rolled over and came to rest at my feet. Dust smoked over me, but I could see well enough to tell it was a skull.
Nearly dancing to get away from it, I went over the edge of the stairs. Slipping, I went down a few steps. Then from my knees, I saw the Slumberdale crowd gathered below. Ghastly grins showed on burning skull faces, eyes with deep anger and vengeance, fingers of bone rising to claw my flesh.
Terror and hot blood shot into my brain. I collapsed, fell forward, and blacked out completely.
Jimmy C found me in the morning. I was spread out and snoring at the bottom of the library stairs. The crumbling book was in my hands, and except for a few bruises and a very sore neck, I was okay.
My throat was so dry I could barely speak, but that didn't matter because what I said didn't make much sense. Rising and leaning on him, I stumbled to the car and we drove out of Slumberdale.
He had a bottle of gin in the hidden bar so I poured a glass and nursed it. I told him I'd had a medical lapse and didn't want anyone to know about it. He nodded and took me to his apartment. I cleaned up before heading home.
“We still got protesters and the press out front of your house,” Jimmy C said. “I spoke firmly with the police, demanding that they be removed, but I can't get them to do anything. And that's not all. Tom James, the old Slumberdale lawyer, passed away last night. It has come out that you have the controlling interest in Slumberdale. The press sees a major corruption scandal in this. They're going to crucify you.”
“It's not a problem,” I said. “Don't bother trying to get in the back way. I know how to handle this situation.”
“What? You must be kidding. If I drive up at the front we'll be mobbed and you'll likely be torn apart.”
“Stop worrying and just do it.”
Jimmy C fell silent, but I could tell by his frown that he thought I was crazy. In spite of that, he obeyed and we drove slowly up the smoggy road into a hostile mob of local residents and reporters.
Some of them bashed picket signs on the car while others ran forward shouting. My son was up on the lawn addressing the mob through a bullhorn. He had them block us totally, so Jimmy stopped there in the middle of the street and walked around to help me out.
People screamed wildly and clawed at him but he made it to my door. Then police and the press forced their way in and within moments TV cameras were on me.
I told them I wouldn’t speak unless they would amplify my voice so the entire crowd of protesters could hear me. Police moved in to guard me for a few long and chaotic minutes, and then I began to take questions. So many reporters were shouting at me that I again held back and refused to answer. They managed to get organized and City TV came in with the first question.
“Roger, reliable sources have informed us that you're planning to turn Slumberdale into a developer-run casino and red light district? Who are the developers backing this project and why is it being brought in secretly through the back door?”
Putting on my best look of indignation, I faced the cameras and protesters and said, “I don't know where you get your information, but it’s wrong. Slumberdale will not be a den of prostitution, gambling, and organized crime.”
“No gambling?” the stunned reporter said. “Do you really expect us to believe that?”
I prepared to answer, and then I saw a ghost rising to me in the smog. Only then did I realize what I’d been saying and was about to say. The mist flowed into my nostrils and I noticed that my heart had stopped but in some strange way, my blood was flowing. Words came to my mouth like magic and I answered the question. “I don’t expect you to believe me, but over time you’ll see. There won’t be any corruption in the redevelopment of Slumberdale. The detailed report I have in my hand is a plan to refurbish seventy historical sites in the town. There will also be a sports centre, a community center, and several acres of green parkland for the people of Leaside. The entire area will be zoned to keep out heavy industry, freeways, and polluters, and my daughter will be pleased to hear that tenant housing will be included in the new residential mix.”
The reporters and the crowd fell completely silent and stared. My voice had come over the speakers with force, and had left everyone so stunned they were at a loss for words.
A few hecklers started to shout. I saw reporters from the Toronto Star hurrying over for their turn at me. Up in the sky the sun floated in ghostly haze, and at that moment, I felt the power descending … the ghostly power of Slumberdale and its people, filling me and turning me into their politician. Though I had no heart left, I felt a change of heart as waves of compassion swept through me.
I spoke before the reporters could question me, and the crowd fell silent and listened. “Yes, I have a long history and most of it is spotty. But this time I’ve had a change of heart. When I entered politics, my main concern was to deal with those that felt overly entitled and wasted city money. Somewhere along the way, I became worse than my enemies and it put me at odds with many people, including my son, wife and daughter. Today I want to announce that I intend to reconcile with my family, and start doing the good civic things people elected me to do.”
I smiled broadly at the sea of people. Even the hecklers were silenced. Then I lifted my arms in victory. In the distant smog of the horizon, I saw a friendlier ghost rising, and then I caught a glimpse of a new Leaside neighbourhood and residents who cheered.
------ The End ------