Monday, April 18, 2011
Traveling Light by Lloyd A Meeker is a shamanic initiation adventure, a love story that bridges the worlds, a mystical quest for growth, and a mystery.
An eye for an eye...
Ian McCandless is a hospice nurse, training to become a shaman. When his mentor orders him to make peace with his estranged family, Ian reluctantly agrees, anticipating just another conflict-filled visit. On their way from the airport Ian's older brother Will interrupts a convenience store robbery and is shot, dying in Ian's arms and calling to him for vengeance.
Ian uses his shamanic abilities to track down the killer, but his quest soon turns into a hunt for revenge---forbidden to any shaman. Ian's pursuit jeopardizes his relationship with the spirit world, endangers the lives of those he loves and threatens to banish him from the only path that gives his life meaning.
Traveling Light by Lloyd A. Meeker
MLR Press (March 2011)
ISBN#: 978-1-60820-317-8 (print)
Halifax, Current Time
Ian stood in the aisle and reached for the overhead bin, wincing as his neck reminded him he’d spent a restless night strapped to a plane seat. Jostling politely with other groggy passengers, he pulled down his backpack and reached for his water bottle in the seat pocket. He took a swig, but the tepid water did little to freshen his gummy mouth. Well, he was here. Time to get on with it. He pushed up the jetway, scooting around the family spread three across unfolding a stroller. The flight had landed behind schedule, and he was glad he didn’t have checked baggage or he’d have made Will wait even longer. That wouldn’t be a good start to the visit.
On the escalator down to street level he calmed himself, preparing. He would make this trip different from the others, exactly as Ang had instructed. He would no longer ask for what his family couldn’t give. Instead, he’d make this visit a mature moving on. No burned bridges—just kind, clear understanding. They wouldn’t even have to know what changes he was making in himself. But they would feel the difference, he was sure.
Mrs. H. was right—his parents would be grateful he’d come, even though their discomfort would be at least as acute as his own. He heard his mother’s wistful voice on the phone again: “It’s been so long since the whole family has been together for Easter. Please come home.” But this wasn’t his home. Just theirs.
Let it go, for God’s sake, he scolded himself as he trudged out the airport doors, through the noise and exhaust from the waiting buses. That’s not the point. He darted across the taxi lanes to the pickup zone. He’d come as Ang had instructed—in service to his first tribe, to finish his work with them.
He took a deep breath and blew it out. A wave of compassion for his parents rose in him, seeing the weekend from their perspective. What must it feel like to be certain a son you loved was headed to hell? It would take determined effort for them to pretend everything was good and normal when unrepentant heresy sat at the family table eating Easter ham. But they would, even when he and Will shouted at each other.
He deposited his duffel on the sidewalk and stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets, hunching against the morning sharpness in the wind, stubbornly refusing to dig out his jacket. Even at the same temperature, the wind off the Atlantic always seemed colder to him than it did at home in Vancouver. But maybe it would brace him for coming events. He waited.
A dark blue pickup with a broken grille and McCandless Contracting painted in two-tone script on the door barreled to the curb. Ian grinned at the man behind the wheel and slung his bag into the truck bed next to the shiny built-in toolbox. “Hey, Will.” Ian pushed a chaos of papers over and slid onto the seat. “Thanks for picking me up.”
Will crushed his cigarette stub into a mounded ashtray and gunned the engine before Ian had fastened his seatbelt, sticking a beefy bare arm out the window to announce he was cutting through. “What the hell took you so long, little brother?” he growled, scowling into the side-view mirror. “Had to drive around the loop three times before you showed up. You know how much gas costs here? Shit, it’s probably free out in lotus-land where you live.”
Ian clenched his jaw against his teenage reflex of apology, but the words spilled out before he could stop them. “Sorry, Will, the plane was late. I got to the curb as fast as I could.” He’d even hunched his shoulders, just like he used to. The old dynamic between them had reasserted itself in seconds, and it was bitter in his mouth.
Will barged through traffic onto the overpass to Memorial Highway southbound and roared around the ramp, forcing his way into the flow, then swung to flash a triumphant grin at Ian. “Gotcha, little bro. Just giving you a hard time.”
Ian tried to keep the resentment out of his voice. “Nice to see you, too.”
Will laughed. “Look, all I want is to get to Mom and Dad’s— everybody’s already there but us. Katy’s over a year old, and you’ve never even seen her. You should come back more often, stay in touch with your family.”
Ian stared at his brother, trying to hold his own against his childhood-protector-turned-bully—the powerful eyes, the broad, strong face, the shaggy dark hair sticking out of a worn John Deere baseball cap—and failed. So like Dad. So unlike himself. He was secretly proud he’d inherited his mother’s looks—lithe frame, milky skin, grey eyes and copper hair. “I do have the pictures you sent,” he said, stiffening his back in defense. “All of them.”
“Not the same at all,” pronounced Will. “You’ll see. She’s so beautiful.” His voice softened. “She’s my little angel princess.”
Ian shook his head, charmed by Will’s naked tenderness. “I can understand you saying that, after three wild boys.” Then he froze, recognizing his slip. “Four.”
“Yeah. Never forget the one God took early.” Will’s jaw twitched, pinching the words into small, tight sounds. “Little Robbie was barely baptized before he went.”
“Sorry.” Ian hid his embarrassment behind a scowl. “I should have remembered. It’s been over ten years, though. Lots of water under the bridge since then.”
“Not enough, that’s for sure. Never will be. He was our first.” Will sighed. “It’s okay. I understand. You’ll never get a chance to know what parenthood is like. That’s part of the terrible price you’ve paid for the lifestyle you’ve chosen.”
“Not true,” Ian bristled. “Sam and I could have a family if we—”
“Not the same thing at all.” The certainty in Will’s voice was seamless, impenetrable. “You got to have a wife. Plant the seed, watch her swell, feel the baby kick, come to term.” Wonder made his face luminous. “Wait for the Sister to bring out that tiny miracle so you can hold it, that wrinkled little piece of heaven. There’s nothing else like it in this world.”
Ian turned away and looked out the window at the passing greenery along the freeway. There was nothing to be gained by arguing further. Will had come to tolerate his “lifestyle” as he called it—damn, how he hated that term! It was just oily condescension disguised as broad-mindedness. But Will would never really get it. With the long weekend ahead of them, the house packed full of memories, chaos, stress and kids, there was no point in expecting more. Respect your family, your first tribe. Silence served better than speaking, so he stayed silent.
“Dammit, truck’s running hot,” Will muttered eventually. “You talk to Seb recently?”
To his credit, Will was trying too, expanding the conversation to their brother—that was encouraging. Ian shrugged, taking the proffered olive branch as if he hadn’t noticed that it was one. “Not for a month or so. Thought we’d catch up this weekend. He seemed pretty happy, though.” Ian looked at Will, hoping for a smile, some sign of agreement.
Will frowned at the road ahead. “Yeah, seems to be. Don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, though. He ought to settle down, make a proper home for Amy. Music’s no way to make a steady living. I’ve asked him dozens of times to work for me full- time instead of just between gigs. I’ve got plenty of work, and I could use the help.” He pushed the truck into the left-hand exit for Lakeview Drive and sped up. “At least you’re a nurse.”
Ian squashed down a laugh. Long ago Will had emerged as Dad’s unanointed, uncontested heir as arbiter of what was acceptable—and not—for the entire family. In his ham-fisted way he’d taken the responsibility seriously as a role befitting the eldest son. And the toughest. “Jeez, Will—give him a break. He’s a musician. Don’t beat up on us just because we don’t do it your way. That’s just the way life is—untidy. Ang says that even a shaman—”
“Stop!” Will’s forearms bunched into cables, knuckles whitening on the steering wheel. “I’ve told you before—you do not raise your voodoo shit around us.” Will’s voice flattened into menace. “If you so much as mention any of that bullshit about your black magic in front of Mom I will take you into the back yard and break you into pieces. You are not going to torment her with that garbage again. What’s more, you will never speak of it in front of my kids or Liz. Never. Understood?”
Ian folded his arms across his chest, staring at the dash— anywhere but his red-faced brother. Stupid! How could he have been that careless? “Sure, Will, understood.” He wanted to fight back, and easy anger boiled up. “And you’ll never get to know how beautiful, how powerful and sacred that part of my life is.” He donned self-righteousness like armor. “You reject whatever doesn’t fit into your little framework. That’s the price you’ve paid for the boxed-in lifestyle you’ve chosen.”
“There is nothing I need to know about that part of your life, Ian. Father Dominic says it’s witchcraft, and that’s all I need to know.”
Ian slapped his forehead so hard it stung. “Oh, right. Father Dominic has always had the answers, hasn’t he? At least on the odd day he’s sober.” Ian snickered. “Sure. What was I thinking? That ought to be enough for anybody.” Will’s face went storm- dark, but he said nothing.
Ian stared out the window, angry, discouraged. How could he ridicule Will’s unflinching protection of what he loved? In times past, he’d protected Ian, too. One Saturday when he was a sophomore—soon after he’d come out—he’d been leaning over the kitchen sink holding ice to his face. Will had badgered him into admitting that his black eye and bruises weren’t from a minor scuffle after practice but from being jumped by Howie Spencer and two of his buddies. They’d pinned his arms and beat him, shouting over and over that they didn’t want a fag on the track team, laughing as they punched him.
Will had stiffened at Ian’s admission, one hand on the refrigerator door. In spite of his own angry disapproval of Ian’s new lifestyle, as he’d called it even then, the fury that had come up in his brother’s face then was terrible—silent, hard and cold as stone. Without another word he’d marched out the front door, jumped into his old Pontiac and roared away.
He was late for supper that night, but winked at Ian as he apologized to Mom and Dad. Without another word he’d started cheerfully piling roast beef and mashed potatoes on his plate like he hadn’t eaten for a week.
Although he refused to tell Ian what he’d done, Howie Spencer never harassed him again. Nobody else did, either. He’d had it far easier in school than other gay kids he’d known— because of Will.
Ian had been grateful for Will’s toughness then, that same hard certainty. Now it just made him crazy. He watched a silver Nissan and its aged driver slide backwards as they passed. This was not the beginning to his visit that he’d wanted. They drove in silence for long minutes.
“Look,” Will said. “It took a while, but I’m really okay with you being gay. So are Mom and Dad. It was hard for us, all right? Sebastian is around that stuff all the time and doesn’t seem to even notice it. Still, I’m glad you don’t make it a big deal.” He stared ahead at the road as his voice dropped, became thick. “But never, never poison the rest of our family with that voodoo bullshit you’re into or I swear I will hurt you bad.”
Ian lifted his hands, palms open. “Okay, Will. Truce. Believe whatever works for you. But you’ve got to grant me the same. I had to find what works for me. And I’ve found it. Believe it or not, it was hard for me, too.” Ian watched the exits roll by, pleased at having stood up for himself without a counter-attack. Maybe this would get better, if he kept trying.
Will reached into his shirt pocket and glowered at the empty cigarette box he pulled out. He crushed it in a fist and dropped it on the seat beside him.
The truck roared off Lakeview Drive onto Circumferential. Still about ten minutes to go before they got to Mom and Dad’s—enough time to cool things off more, to reestablish some common ground. “Look, we’re not kids anymore, Will. I’d love for you to respect my life, or at least not curse it.” Ian fought the sting of incipient tears, and the ache of longing was like a stone lodged in his throat. “But I’ve pretty much learned to live without your approval. Or even your respect.” At least he wanted that to be true.
Will stared at the road, his face stony, lips pressed into a thin line. A vein at his temple bulged like a jagged scar.
Ian turned away, hurting. “Anyway. Don’t worry about the weekend—I’m not here to hurt Mom and Dad any more than you are,” he said into the window. “I’m here so we can all have a nice family Easter together.” He forced a thin smile to share his sadness. “We’re pretty much on track with the family part so far, don’t you think?”
Will wrenched the truck onto the exit ramp and onto Highfield Park Drive. “I’ve gotta get some smokes. There’s a Needs just off this ramp.” He careened into the parking lot and squealed to a stop, leaving the engine running as he jumped out and stomped toward the convenience store.
Ian scrunched into the corner of the cab and stared at the dull boxy apartments across the street and the flat-roofed strip mall next to the parking lot. There were shabby parts to Vancouver, too, but this had a kind of dull hopelessness that he wasn’t used to.
The mall’s ugly metal siding had been painted what once might have been a cheerful canary, but weather and neglect had since corroded it to a grimy ochre, made worse with badly-fitted brown trim. One storefront was empty. Inside its glass door a skewed red and black FOR LEASE sign with a hand-printed phone number on it hung by half its tape. The dollar store next to it was closed and dark. Neither the Laundromat with big signs in the windows announcing its great rates, or the pizza place had any activity that Ian could see. The porn shop right next to the Needs had a couple of cars in front of it, and that was it.
Ian rubbed his eyes, massaging everything away. This was a hell of a start to the weekend. But he would find a way to make his peace with Will. Everything else would follow. Yes. He would try even harder, without compromising himself. Show much more restraint.
Loud pops came from somewhere, and Ian opened his eyes. Who would be shooting off firecrackers this time of year? No—not firecrackers. Gunshots.
Ian sat up and looked around, sudden adrenaline firing every nerve. A man in sweats and a dark hoodie bolted from the convenience store and disappeared around the building.
Ian jumped from the truck and sprinted to the door, yanked it open. On his left, the wall behind the counter was spattered red, the cash register yawning open. There was a body, a middle aged woman’s, open-eyed and mouth agape, crumpled on the floor below it. To his right, Will lay on the floor slumped against an ice cream cooler, a soft, puzzled look on his face. A dark pool widened around him, fed from a glistening crater in his shirt.
Rushing to his brother, Ian wedged himself between Will and the cooler, propping him up, cradling him against his chest. Will’s head sagged back against Ian’s shoulder, and his lips moved a little, inarticulate, pushing out a line of pink froth. “...happen...” His cough turned into a grunt of pain.
“Don’t try to talk, Will. Oh, fuck—he got you good. Hang on, I’ve gotta call 911.” He already knew they’d never make it in time, but he refused to understand. Ian tried to press the wound closed using the bloody shirt with one hand, fumbled for his phone with the other, trying not to jostle his brother.
Will reached up and pushed slow, bloody fingers against Ian’s face. “Sorry, little brother,” he wheezed. “No more...” Blood trickled down his chin, joining the pulsing stream from his chest. “Get the bastard. Tell Liz.”
Will spat out a wet cough, and his eyes emptied. The bleeding from his chest slowed to a meaningless leak. Ian clenched his arms around his brother’s body and began to moan, pressing the side of his face into Will’s neck. He stared at the garish oranges, blues and greens of the packaged potato chips in the wire rack next to the cooler, insulted by their obscene brightness. He squeezed his eyes shut and wailed into darkness.
To purchase, click here