Trickster tells his tale…
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Excerpt from M.N. SNow's speculative fiction novel The Helper
Today, I’m very excited to be featuring author M.N. SNow and an excerpt from their novel THE HELPER.
A tale that combines contemporary, speculative fiction with an ambiguous spirituality. The book explores relationships between lovers, friends, families, and what Powers of Good there may be.
John Sloan is an ex-Marine with a life-long secret that is haunting him. He is a conduit to a healing light that draws him to people on the brink of emotional disintegration, people who are then healed and Helped by this light. His blue-collar world is shattered when he finds that his connection to this anonymous portal has vanished. He is alone, seemingly beyond aid, and in desperate need of a Helping himself.
The book tracks the intersecting lives of John and two other Helpers. His lifelong friend Dusty Hakalla is a mixed-blood Ojibwe, with a secret of his own. His power to Help is remarkable, but was once destructively misused. A career Marine, his scarred childhood and momentary abuse of power have left him jaded and bereft. Deena Morrison, also a Helper, is John's girlfriend. Adopted as an infant, she flees John to find her birth-mother, while carrying within herself her own secret. Another character shadows their lives as narrator, Nan'b'oozoo, the trickster god of Ojibwe legend—at times sarcastic and petulant, at others insightful and humorous.
The novel travels from the gritty Lake Superior port-cities and Indian Reservations of northern Wisconsin to the Jewish neighborhoods of North Miami Beach, Florida—from Parris Island to the war zones of Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Excerpt: Section from Prologue
Coyote peered through the bushes and watched the scene unfold. The four legged Trickster knew the humans needed his help. He just didn't know if he wanted to give it. They could certainly use it, but would it be the best for all concerned? And, would helping them provide him with the most satisfaction? He would just have to watch and wait, as they would. Helping, hurting, hot and cold, part god, part animal. The Trickster.
The Ojibwe, or Chippewa, of northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada didn't have a Trickster that walked on all fours. Nope, theirs stood upright on two legs. Part god, part human. Many of the tribe thought this a better figure, more appropriate given the Trickster's nature. Especially the human part. Prone to fits of anger, jealousy and resentment. Able to alter events in a way that only a god could, but given to episodes of what can only be described as Trickster-ness. That could only be described as, well, human.
His name is Nana'b'oozoo. A child of the heavens and of the earth, growing up parent-less.
Trickster tells his tale…
The first time John Sloan Helped someone was in 1971. He was four years old. He already had a sense that he was different but was too young to know anything more.
John’s mother Roberta had dragged him, along with his five-year-old brother James, to James's kindergarten class. Roberta was always dragging extra kids along—always a bit behind, as is the case with mothers of children who have husbands who earn their wages over the road. Darn good wages both Roberta and her husband Hugo would agree, but nonetheless things like kindergarten fell upon Roberta's shoulders much more squarely than Hugo's. At that time, they numbered five children, from ages two to nine, with one more to come in another year or so.
Tall Roberta, five-feet, seven-inches of dark flowing hair, red lipstick, and flashing brown eyes, lugging John along with James to school on that gray, northern Wisconsin, December day. They were late for the four-hour, afternoon class and Roberta went over to Mrs. Hinkley, James's teacher, to explain how Theresa, the nine year old, had spilled Campbell’s tomato soup on Tracey the two year old and a chain of events had started. Theresa was home sick from school, and should have been in bed, but she wanted to help her mom and it had all gotten out of control so very quickly, as Mrs. Hinkley knew so well. She had twenty-six little potential soup spillers that could quickly bring schedules to a halt.
While Roberta was laughingly commiserating with Mrs. Hinkley, John had wandered over to the brightly decorated Christmas tree that a few of the other children were admiring. He stood back a bit from the others and he smiled. And he felt it. What he was to come to feel quite often during his life. His "extra-ness", his "special-ness," stood up a bit inside of him and said, "watch and wait." Goose bumps broke out on John's arms and back. So John did as he was told. He watched and waited... and he glowed.
Three little girls and one little boy were carefully stepping around the twinkling Christmas tree. They were playing a guessing game. They were guessing which of their classmates had brought in which decorations. They would point and touch an ornament and say, "oh, that's from Terry Archambault. And that star is from Ruby Cerdich."
One of the girls was being extra careful. She had straight, jet black hair that spilled all the way down to her lower back and a smile that was all the more beautiful for it's missing front teeth. Her name was Lorraine, but Lorraine wasn't smiling much these days. No, life was not a big barrel of grinning monkeys for little Lainie as of late. Lorraine, or Lainie as her dad used to call her, had a secret. And she couldn't tell anybody about that secret. Nope, she couldn't tell a soul, and if she could have put it into words she would have said that the secret was killing her.
Lainie had brought in a beautiful stained glass angel that hung from a silver string. Lainie's mother had made that angel for last year's Christmas tree. That turned out to be the last piece of stained glass that Lainie's mother Evelyn was ever to make. Evelyn was diagnosed by the middle of January and had lasted until spring. This was Lainie's first Christmas without her mother, and Lainie shouldn't have brought the stained glass decoration to class. It belonged in the basement. Lainie's father Douglas had been very firm about that. Lainie was not to touch any of her mother's things. They stayed in the basement! The very back of the basement. Crouched, dusty, hidden.
Douglas had been so devastated by Evelyn's death that he had taken everything connected with her, boxed it up and trundled it all down to the basement where it was now stacked in the darkest recesses of the musty, dimly lit cellar. Every article of clothing, every brush and comb, every picture that included Evelyn was grimly boxed up and taped shut. Especially the pictures. Douglas had sent Lainie to her aunt Agnes's house one Sunday shortly after the funeral and finished the chore in an afternoon. Anything that included death's hollow scent was now shut away down-cellar. These boxes included all of the stained glass pieces that Evelyn had so lovingly crafted. And the boxes were not to be touched or spoken of. Lainie's father was very clear on that fact. He had sat Lainie down that Sunday evening and told her not to touch the boxes and not to speak of the boxes.
"Mommy is dead", her dad had choked out. Lainie could still see her father's empty eyes staring out the window and hear his haunted voice, so unlike the voice she knew, tell her in no uncertain terms that "she wasn't to touch anything in the back of the cellar. Ever!" That was the last time Lainie and her father had spoken of her mother. Her dad had changed.
From that point on her dad had started fading away. Not only was Lainie losing memories of her mother, but it also seemed that her father was disappearing, bit by bit and day by day, right before her eyes. What did she do wrong, she thought? Why did God do this? I miss my mommy and why can't I crawl up into my daddy's lap anymore? Lainie thought that she might be disappearing too, and this really scared her. When she held out her arm and looked at her hand she could still see her fingers but she wasn't sure that they weren't fading a bit. She would stand in front of the full length mirror on the back of her bedroom door and stare at herself and sometimes see that she was not all there. No, she was not all there, at all. She thought that she might be turning into a ghost and that scared her so badly that one day she almost peed in her pants. Frozen white and swaying in front of the mirror she had seen nothing. Lainie didn't look in that mirror anymore, but she remembered.
This was the secret that Lainie carried hidden inside her that day in the classroom. This and more. Lainie had snuck down-cellar, found the boxes that contained her mother's stained glass pieces and found the angel. Her mom had made it 'specially for her and she just had to bring it to class for the tree. She had to bring it or she would disappear completely and no one would ever be able to see her again. She would still be alive and walking around, but she knew that no one would be able to see her.
As Lainie and the other children circled the tree looking at the pretty ornaments, “ormaments” Jimmy Tong called them, John watched. He felt the something swell up and glow inside of himself. He intuitively knew that he was there to Help, whatever that meant. He didn't know who he was there to Help, but he understood that something was coming on none the less. Lainie caught his eye, and in spite of the fact that she looked so sad, he felt good. No, not just good, or even great. John felt perfect.
Lainie spied her mom's angel hanging from the branch where she had placed it with Mrs. Hinkley's help. She stood still and looked at it, mesmerized by the light dancing out from the different colored pieces of glass inside of it. The light seemed to dance out to her and twirl around her. The shards of light that were coming out of the angel's eyes shot out and stopped right in front of Lainie's face and seemed to be looking at her. The other kids had moved on to the other side of the tree and Lainie was alone, frozen in her spot, surrounded by light from the stained glass angel. Lainie was petrified. She didn't think this was any angel anymore. Gosh no. She saw her mom's eyes and maybe something darker and horrible behind that. Bad eyes.
John watched all of this, and saw and felt it too. He now knew that Lainie was falling. She was falling into a dark pit in horrified slow motion. John was only four years old and didn't know this in words, but he knew it just the same. He saw it in pictures that appeared in his mind. In spite of it all he felt perfect. He felt a power plant swell through him, humming away and powering up.
John watched as the hypnotized Lainie swayed and started inching toward the tree. Lainie wanted to touch the angel. She was being drawn to the angel against her will. Her arm was outstretched and her pointed finger was moving toward the angel to touch it. It was right at this time that the children on the other side of the tree started goosing each other and when Jimmy Tong started tickling Rosemary Banks, Rosemary let out a shriek. A loud shriek. A fingernails down the blackboard shriek that shatters glass, and causes fillings to vibrate, kind of shriek. This shriek caused Lainie's feet to get tangled up and she tripped in her trance-like walk toward her mother's shining angel. The trip was turning into a fall as Lainie stretched out both hands toward the tree, toward the angel. One hand grabbed a branch and stopped Lainie's slow motion fall. But Lainie's other hand, her offending hand, had grabbed her mother's angel. Horrified, Lainie looked and saw that she was squeezing the angel with her other hand. She was squeezing it so hard that she was going to break it, and so because this was her mother's angel, Lainie's only link to her lost mom, she let go of it.
Things slowed down and John was able to see through Lainie's eyes. The stained glass angel came loose from the tree and was starting its fall to the floor. John was helpless to stop its flight and knew that this wasn't his job to do. John and Lainie watched as the twirling angel head-over-heeled its way to the brown tile floor. Just before its slow-motion descent reached the floor it was facing up and there were beams of colored light shooting out of its angel eyes looking directly into Lainie's. Nothing had stopped, the angel didn't hover and look into Lainie's eyes, but there was one split second, one nano-second, one moment where its eyes glowed beseechingly into Lainie's eyes. "Help," they said. And then the angel hit the tile floor and shattered.
A kindergarten classroom has a certain level of noise to it. A buzzing murmur at the best of times, much louder at other times, but breaking glass has a tendency to get everyone's attention even if they are preoccupied five-year-olds. Then, quickly as you can say "Jimmy Tong said Patricia Barnes was full of crap", the room was silent. All eyes intuitively sought out Lainie, and as quickly as that, the buzz returned. It returned for all except Lainie. Inside Lainie all was silent. Lainie had shattered too.
Mrs. Hinkley was quick to rush to Lainie's side, somehow knowing that it wasn't Lainie's fault but also not knowing how important the angel had been to Lainie. John's mom Roberta also came quickly over and helped get Lainie seated in one of those small kid's chairs that we wonder how we ever fit in, and helped Mrs. Hinkley start the process of cleaning up the shattered stained glass pieces.
John found himself sitting in the chair next to Lainie. He saw her big brown eyes fill with tears and knew that she had lost. Not that she was lost, suggesting a situation from which one could be found. No, no, no. Lainie was only five years old and she had lost. Never to win again. Shit, never to lose again. Lainie was five years old, it was Christmas, her mother had died, her father was disappearing, and she had broken her mother's last present to her, that she wasn't supposed to touch. Ever! Lainie had lost. It was OVER and John knew it. Lainie had reached a pivot point and been catapulted in a direction from which there was no return. Five years old and already over. And if you think it doesn't happen, think again.
John sat in the chair next to Lainie and John's newly realized extra-ness sat down in it with him. He was only four years old, not five like Lainie which is huge to kids, but he knew what to do. He took his left hand and grabbed Lainie's right hand and said, "Hi Lainie. My name is John." He hadn't known what to say until that moment, hadn't known to clasp her hand until that instant, and yet that is what he did. That is when John felt it happen. In an amount of time that knew no time, John had the whole story—Cancer, death, a disappearing father, her fading mirror image, and now this. This is when the "little bit of extra", that was really a whole lot, did what it did.
Lainie looked into John's green eyes and it happened. John felt the flow pour out of him. A rushing, gushing, flow of good and of light and of Perfect that splashed back and forth over them. It felt like pure love and a lot more. It felt like crawling in bed with his mother and father times nine gajillion and John didn't even know his multiplication tables yet. Shoot he was still learning his adds.
No other words were spoken. John held Lainie's hand while Mrs. Hinkley and Roberta finished the sweeping up and the rest of the children got back to the business of being, well, children.
As John grew older there were often more words spoken and more time involved but when he was young the Helping rarely involved more than a greeting and two names. His and theirs. John realized he wasn't really doing anything. There just seemed to be a pipeline that poured out of him. It was good, and it washed, and it turned losers into winners. Or more accurately the Lost into the Found.
And Lainie knew. She knew that she was washed. And clean and loved and they both accepted in that instant that Lainie would not remember much of that instant and John would. That's just how it worked. Lainie had been Helped, with a capitol H, and for the first time, John Sloan was a Helper. John felt warm and good and older and perfect. He somehow grasped that no one would ever realize what had just happened. He also knew that because of this Helping, Lainie would go home and talk with her father and he would cry and she would cry, and that Lainie's dad would stop disappearing and Lainie could look in a mirror again, and that they would go on together as father and daughter.
It was good. That had been a long time ago, thirty-plus years, but John could still remember how very good it had been from that very first time on. Yes, being a Helper was good. The ability to Help was good. And now it was gone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
M. N. SNow's bio includes years as a public radio host and anchor, primarily in the south Florida market, but also for Wisconsin Public Radio. M. N. has had various short stories published and was a contributing writer for Reader Weekly, in Duluth, MN. M. N. is also a published cartoonist and a former Marine Corps NCO. After spending some years at home in the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior, WI, the author is currently back living in Key West, FL.