Today, we are happy to provide new information about ‘All Mapped Out’, the fourth anthology from the Edmonton Writer’s Group. ‘All Mapped Out’ is a collection of stories by Edmonton writers, and each story is connected by the theme of maps. With approaches as varied as the writers themselves, stories cover arrivals, departures, and other life journeys.
Like our previous anthologies, all profits from ‘All Mapped Out’ will be donated to the Edmonton Public Library.
Finally, as promised last post, today we’re also sharing the second part of ‘A Good Place for a Miller’—our story from our previous anthology, ‘Edmonton: Unbound’.
The first part of the story can be found here.
-Brad OH Inc.
‘A Good Place for a Miller’ (Part II):
… “So, there are others there too?” asked Jeremy, surprised by the speed the men travelled at, and doing his utmost to keep up without seeming like he was trying to.
“Should be a few,” Slick said.
“And…they won’t mind either, if I join?”
“Not if you don’t cause trouble. The way you drink beer, you should be just fine, kid.”
“Yeah,” Lucky agreed, “leaves more for me! Haha.”
… “So,” said Slick, “what’s this festival you wanted to go to anyway? Must be something, if losing it’s worth losing all the rest.”
“Yeah, well I think so. But it’s not just about that, it’s about having the ability to choose something for myself. I’ve been listening to this band for a long time, and they really speak to me. So, I wanted to finally go to this festival they have—the ‘Gathering of the Juggalos’—and meet some of the other fans from around the world.
“You know, they’re a sort of community themselves, the Juggalos. They’re united by their role as outcasts, their love of the music and even a special bond with each other. Outside of my house, I’ve never had anything like that and…”
“Boy, I feel like I’ve had it easy hearing all this tragedy,” Lucky joked.
“Go on kid, you’re alright,” said Slick.
“Well,” Jeremy continued, somewhat less sure of himself now, “It would have been nice to feel like a part of something, you know. I don’t know why they couldn’t just let me have that.”
“Ain’t their choice,” said Slick. “If you wanna go to the damn thing, then go. Hell, I left my home, such as it was, long before your age. Look at me now, got all the ‘community’ I need, just like you say.” Slick grinned and slapped Lucky on the back. Jeremy felt his stomach drop.
Mill Creek Ravine was a long, wooded section of the city which followed naturally the curve of the tiny creek. Dirt foot-paths and off-leash trails were the primary function of the park, weaving through trees and alongside the creek-bed where the thin trickle of water which had long ago burrowed the ravine from the hard earth tickled the polished stones of its bed.
Walking a long stretch bordered tightly by trees on both sides, Jeremy heard footsteps approaching. From around the corner came a man, woman, and young Golden Retriever pup, all jogging peaceably—the last vestiges of civilization draining from the park along with the day’s light.
“Hello,” Jeremy smiled and nodded, a custom long ingrained by the rigidly enforced politeness of his upbringing. Much to his surprise, he was met only by distant avoidance, and the couple hurried past with no greeting and as little eye-contact as they could manage.
Jeremy heard Slick chuckling to himself, and felt the chill of night begin to gnaw at his exposed flesh. “It’s weird how little time I’ve spent down here, living so close and all. It really is pretty this time of evening,” Jeremy said.
“You go where you need to be I guess. Not much need of a cold forest for a guy like you. Not most of the time, least of ways,” said Slick.
“I only go where my needs are,” said Lucky, crushing another empty beer can into his bag as he grabbed a fresh can from the sack on Slick’s shoulder.
As the trio moved, the trees parted, affording a panoramic view of the valley, and up to Whyte Avenue. A short hill rose to their right, and Jeremy noticed a picnic table and fire pit which he initially took for the group’s campsite. But they kept walking, past the bench, and back down into the woods, crossing a wooden bridge as they went. Finally, the pair slipped off the path and knelt by the stream to fill their canteens. “What’s that for?” asked Jeremy.
Slick rolled his eyes and chuckled loudly. “For drinking, what the hell do you think? It’s not all beer all the time down here you know. A man needs real water now and again.”
“Speak for yourself, I’m fine with beer,” said Lucky.
“That’s half your problem,” said Slick, and Jeremy allowed himself a laugh of his own.
Taking a knee on the bank, Jeremy cupped his hands and filled his mouth with water, swishing it around in his cheeks to rid himself of the beer’s stale aftertaste. The water was dirty and tasted odd, leaving a gritty feeling in his mouth even after he’d swallowed. Jeremy remembered fighting with his parents many times over being told to settle for a cup of cold tap water in place of a soda, and felt a hot flush steal over him.
“So, how long have you guys been out here?” he asked.
Slick gazed upward, as if loosing himself in the riddle. “Hell, I don’t know. I’ve been out and about, on and off different streets most of my life. Bounced between cities, occasionally found spells of work. I just go where I see fit, find what I can. Same for Lucky. Same for most of us, I guess.”
“So,” Jeremy continued, feeling emboldened and connected to these two strange men, “is there anything that would ever make you stop wandering? Where would you want to stay, if given the chance?”
This brought a pause from both men, and a long, terminal silence. Finally, it was once again Slick who broke the tension. “Stay, huh? Well that’s just it I guess, ain’t it? I stay where I can, where people will have me. Like I said kid, you ought to go where you’re wanted, and make it fit as best you can. Running around trying to find a place to rest is no kind of life, after all. What the hell is it you think you’re looking to find out here anyway?” Slick sealed up his canteen as he spoke, and motioned the others back onto the trail.
Jeremy thought about the warmth of his room, and the lock on his door. He remembered the porch light left on when he arrived home late from work, and the judgmental glare of his father waiting in the porch when he arrived home late from anyplace else. “Well, I guess I don’t know what I want to find exactly. But I still want to have the chance to search for it, you know? Didn’t you ever want more freedom—the chance to make decisions for yourself, to seek your own destiny and see what you’re truly made of?”
Slick gazed intently for a moment at his dry and cracking, discoloured hands, and Jeremy felt his own—soft and sweaty, fidgeting in his clean jacket pockets. “Can’t be much help on that point, I’m afraid. Never had any shortage of freedom,” said Slick. “No family, no commitments. Free as a bird, like they say. But don’t you worry, someone at camp might be able to point you in the right direction. It’s not far now.”
Together, Jeremy and the two men continued, crossing another short wooden footbridge, winding again through the trees until finally, at Slick’s cue, they turned off the dirt path and traipsed deeper into the woods. Jeremy felt his stomach growling, and a queer feeling welling up in his chest. He swallowed back a sudden lump in his throat, and fell in line behind Lucky.
Not far in there was a break in the trees, and at a bend in the creek, a small campfire burned in a hole dug in the earth. A bedraggled man and woman clung to each other near the flames. Further out, sitting cross-legged on the rocks by the water, was an older man with a somber look on his red, weathered face.
Slick and Lucky offered some brief greetings, and took their seats by the fire. “These are Grace and Riley,” said Slick, pointing to the couple near the fire, “and that one we just call ‘The Old Man’. He comes by this way now and then. This is Jeremy, he’s with us for now.”
“Hi,” Jeremy knew his greeting was muted and sheepish, and was relieved when it drew nothing but a brief nod from the couple, and an inquisitive, bemused stare from the Old Man. He settled in front of the fire beside Slick, still nursing his now warm beer.
“You’re a lucky bunch tonight,” said Slick, passing around his bag of beer.
“I’m lucky!” said Lucky, taking one eagerly.
“So, Jeremy here’s feeling lost—looking to figure out how he fits in, and thought he might find it down in these parts,” Slick explained to the uninterested crowd.
“He’ll find something,” said Grace. Jeremy squirmed.
“I just,” he began once more, and took a swig of stale beer to bolster his courage, “I just want to do things on my own for once. I want to know how far I can go without anyone else taking the wheel from me.”
From across the fire, the Old Man stirred. He stretched his back, then leaned forward, a deep and ancient sounding rumble welling up from his chest which slowly grew into articulated words. “We all want control of our lives at some point,” he said. “And that’s just fine. But it’s not the times we’re in control which define who we are, boy.”
An uncomfortable silence hung in the cool night air. The rest of the vagrants eyed one another and sipped on their beers, waiting for Jeremy’s response.
Taking a pull from his own diminishing can, Jeremy considered his words carefully. ‘Control of our lives,’ he reflected in his head. He could remember his parents setting his clothes out as a child, pulling him from parties when his behaviour was not acceptable. He recalled his awards for academic excellence and the raise he’d recently been given at work. “But I’m not out of control right now. I’m doing pretty well, honestly. I just want a bit more freedom.”
“Don’t we all,” the Old Man replied, “but when we fight most desperately for control, we often lose what we’d look to gain.”
Jeremy was confused. He knew he’d learned a lot at home, and was merely eager to put that into use. He felt ready, and resented any implication to the contrary. He wished that he could speak as freely to his parents as he could to these bedraggled strangers—to tell them how important the Gathering was to him, and what it would mean to him if he could only go.
The Old Man leaned forward, “What are you thinking about right now?”
Jeremy’s beer can was empty. He crushed it up and tossed it into a pile of other discards. ‘Home’, he knew.
All week when he was there, Jeremy had dreamt of freedom and independence. Tonight, in the cold, with beer and liberty and everything up to him, he found himself looking back to the comfort of home, and family.
The Old Man smiled, and Jeremy understood.
Soon, he would speak to his parents about what he needed, and the value of the trip he was now determined to take one way or another. It was something he needed, and that was a good thing to know. But more important still, Jeremy now realized that ‘community’ was not a tangible thing, but a function served—it was the people one could rely on when they needed more than themselves. Through happenstance or fate, the men and women at the fire tonight had found it by necessity. Jeremy knew now that he needed to return to his, and to understand that independence was not about being alone, it was more about knowing when you shouldn’t be.
“I should be going,” he said. The small gathering gave him a content nod, and returned to their own affairs.
In front of Jeremy, the way home stretched out mysterious and still. The night was dark and the path was long, but Jeremy knew he could face it on his own for the simple fact that in the end, he would not have to.