All the Lonely People is Now Available from Blank Paper Press

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Review by Kristiana Reed

Gagnier’s Swear To Me, his first collection explicitly addressing mental health was a triumph. It united writers from across the globe and there was a raw honesty within the pages which helped me feel less alone as I read it.

Gagnier calls us ‘legion’ and here, as ‘all the lonely people’ unite once more, the pain and strength is palpable.

This sequel goes against the grain and truly is better than its predecessor. Swear To Me was exceptional but its sequel is phenomenal. This anthology, in my opinion, is Gagnier’s best work in the poetry sphere. In his quest for self acceptance, he has harnessed his voice. He teaches his readers how to hurt and then turn the hurt into free verse, truth, hope and humanity. And that is what this anthology is about – our humanity and our struggle to contain it with society’s parameters when really we shouldn’t give a f**k. Gagnier’s poetry breathes ragged breaths as he shares his struggle to love himself before others, and the collaborations and pieces from others bolster this sentiment superbly.

After finishing the collection I felt a familiar feeling of camaraderie. Except this time, I also felt strength. Since the release of Swear To Me, all of the writers featured, including Gagnier, have grown into their voices and art, and many have experienced heartache, loss and grief. Thus, these voices feel firmer – Gagnier and the poets he has assembled are steadfast in their belief that in their words there is healing. It is a beautiful thing to read and witness. It is a collection which is needed and I encourage you to read it; to feel the love and words within it.

On that note, I will leave you with my favourite lines from ‘Ten More Things’; a poem written from Gagnier to his daughter.

‘It doesn’t matter who you love, as long as you love. It doesn’t matter what you create, whether on canvas or page, the face of your children or new threads of fate; see what you love and grab it, laugh at it, because that’s the one place that magic survives.’

All the Lonely People is available in paperback format now. Kindle version will release January 7th and is available for pre-order now.

You can find Kristiana at My Screaming Twenties and running Free Verse Revolution

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Mercy Road Episode 1 Excerpt: Available on Kindle March 15th

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MERCY ROAD is the coming of age tale of Harper Leigh Whitaker. Set in 1997, it follows Harper in the months after her mother’s death. This leaves her in the care of her father George, a police officer; and Charlotte, her therapist at the Mercy Road health clinic. It is in sessions with Charlotte that Harper recounts her moral struggles after she and her peers discover one of their neighbours has been harbouring a sex slave in his cellar indefinitely. 

Episode 1 will release March 15th on Kindle, with all subsequent episodes releasing on a weekly basis. The full book will be available in June 2019.

***

Charlotte Huxley starts each session with the most uncomfortable of questions. A pair of horn-rimmed glasses sit on her nose, which point downward and away from her massive bee bonnet.

Technically, her first question is always, “how are you?” or, “what book are you reading today, Harper?”

It is the second, as she escorts me to twin blue armchairs, which unnerves me. Mine is stained with the outlines of Charlotte’s other victims. She hunts for answers in body language and can hear a defense mechanism in every desperate metaphor, but will never admit it.

It is once I take my seat, she tends to make the inquiry that feels like bamboo chutes under my trimmed nails.

“Shall we talk about your mother today, Harper?”

Today, she does not start with The Question. She barely says hello. Crossing her office, I know she has spoken with Dad. We sit, and Charlotte eases into the chair across from me.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened yesterday?” she asks.

“What do you mean?” I ask, brushing long red locks behind my ears.

“Your father mentioned you had quite the adventure.”

“Yes,” I say, slowly.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

The walls are painted a horrid yellow, as if someone tried to imitate a sun and ended up blinding all of us with their dullness.

“Not really,” I reply.

Charlotte is unfazed. She knows I don’t like being here, but for once, I would like to see her exasperated.

“What have you been reading lately, Harper? Anything good?”

The Green Mile by King.”

“Didn’t that just come out this year?”

“Last. I hear they’re making a movie, maybe.”

“And you don’t think you’re a bit young to be reading something like that?”

Shrug. “Dad bought it for me. You know I’ll read anything once.”

“Yes, I remember. Last we spoke, you were reading Lord of the Flies.”

“So?”

“So,” Charlotte remarks, “What were your thoughts?”

She’s trying to provoke me into talking about the house. I don’t want to. I just want to forget the naked, half-conscious woman, handcuffed to a metal cot, head rolling side to side.

This is how she tries to get me to talk about Mom.

“I like how the kids on the island lost sight of the rules of society. Makes me think how people would be without rules.”

“Do you really think that would happen?” Charlotte asks. “People wouldn’t regulate themselves in some way? Or do you agree with Golding?”

“Oh yes,” I reply, “it would be anarchy.”

“And people like your neighbour, say, would not be held accountable, right?”

“I told you, I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Alright,” she says, “What do you want to talk about?”

“Did you always want to be a shrink?”

Charlotte chuckles. “No, actually. I wanted to be a singer once. But, I do not sing as well as I think I do. What do you want to be?”

I think on it a second, but don’t really need to.

“Think I want to be a writer.”

“That’s a very noble path, Harper. Given how much you read. Your vocabulary is very advanced for a thirteen year old.”

“Fourteen in March,” I remind her.

“That may be,” she says, “but it’s only September. The school year has only just started.”

“Still need something to look forward to, don’t I?”

We sit in awkward silence for a second, and I miss my mother’s warmth when I told her about my problems. When I cried to her. When she held me and kissed the top of my head. Charlotte is an emotionally malfunctioning consolation prize in comparison.

I don’t dare cry here.

“Okay,” I relent, “I’m ready to talk about what happened now.” Anything to avoid her stare and puckered lips.

“When you’re ready,” Charlotte says.

Here goes.

***

It all started on Tuesday, because of course it would happen on a weeknight.

Dad was on night shifts so he was sleeping all day and patrolling the highways all night. I don’t know, he’s been different since Mom died. Almost like he’s not there, you know?

And we kids, we just did what we always do. Charlie and his best friend Sally- his real name is Salvatore- rode their bikes in circles around Teddy Woodworth, a younger boy with a shrill voice who shares backyards with Sally. Not a fence divides the Hammond and Woodworth properties, much to Sally’s great dismay when Teddy appears on the daily.

I sat on the lawn, reading my copy of The Green Mile. Sally made some comment about going to the construction site nearby and stealing a bunch of building materials.

My nose stayed firmly in my book.

“You want to come with, Harper?”

Teddy scrunched his nose.

“No thanks,” I groaned, “Still not over the sewer tunnel. The thought of going anywhere with you, ever again, is enough to give me nightmares.”

“That’s harsh.”
I shrugged. “If the shoe fits.”

“Dude,” Charlie told him, “Stop trying to get with my sis and let’s go steal some shit.”

“She’s thirteen. Barely even has tits, yet!”

“I’m right here, Sally,” I said, “although I’m sure your Grandma would slap you silly with her newspaper if she heard you talking about me like that.”

Sally winced at the mention of his very traditional, imposing caretaker. Dad told me his parents were both drug addicts, so I’m sure being publicly spanked with news headlines was the better option for him growing up. It was still enough to make him fall quiet as he and Charlie continued circling on their bicycles.

“Sal,” Charlie said as he straightened his wheels; “If I catch you talking about her tits again, I’m gonna whack you. Forget your grandma. Right to the nuts.”

“Okay, okay.”

Teddy finally spoke. “I can come to the construction site too, right?” He is tiny for his age, his voice a nasal whine even I can’t ignore.

“Yes Teddy,” Charlie grinned, “You can be our fall guy.”

“What’s a fall guy? Do I get to do something cool?”

Sally snickered. “Break your neck, maybe?”

“That’s mean,” I scolded him from my cross legged vantage, “Leave him alone, you two.”

They were ready to open their mouths and aim their taunts at me- the goody-two-shoes little sister- when the door opened behind the patch of lawn I had taken refuge upon, and my father emerged.

He descended the sloped driveway where his Volkswagen always sits and cast a look of annoyance at my brother. In his pressed uniform and creased pants, service revolver around his waist, a duffel bag dragged his arm down. A small, reflective rectangle above his breast pocket glared in the low sunlight.

“Hey Dad,” I said, but Dad did not reply. “Got an A on my English test.”

Dad inserted the duffel in the backseat and closed the door as I squinted to look up at him.

“That’s great, honey. How’s the book?”

“Exciting,” I squealed.

He didn’t offer to match my enthusiasm.

“That’s good, sweetheart. Make sure your brother behaves.”

In front of us, Charlie stopped circling on his bike, as Sally continued carving a path around him.

“Hey! I’m older.”

“Also, less responsible,” Dad said, “At least I can count on Harper not to blowtorch grasshoppers on a wooden deck, kid. Can I say the same for you?”

Charlie had no retort, and as he often did when without response, bowed his head, looking at his feet. Things have been strained enough, I didn’t feel the need to add to it.

“Dinner is in the fridge. And Sally,” he commanded, and the boy from two doors down snapped to attention. “I don’t want to get a call from your grandmother. Home by dark.”

Sally nodded. “Yes, Mr. Whitaker.”

“Make sure of it, Harper?” he said, not waiting for my response to climb into his Volkswagen and reverse down the driveway.

Charlie sneered at me as Dad’s car turned the corner of our crescent road.

“Way to play the favourite,” he said.

“I didn’t take a side, Charlie. Not my fault you always make him worry.”

Charlie scoffed.

“He doesn’t worry about me. Just gets pissed.”

“We could have it worse, you know,” I told him, “Could be like Anna from my class, and come to school with bruises.”

Sally resumed biking in a circle.

“Anna Bond?” he asked, despite knowing the answer. “Steve’s sister?”

I nodded.

“That’s only because Mrs. Bond is drunk all the time,” Charlie offered, “I almost wish Dad would hit me. Better than all this fucking disappointment.”

“You expect too much,” I said.

Charlie brushed me off and Sally reminded him about the house down the street being built. The lawn was a mess of wood planks and sawdust kicked up as almost every kid on our street ran over it that day and every other.

“Right,” Charlie smirked, forgetting about Dad’s perpetual disapproval of him. “Let’s go see what we can lift from this bitch.” He looked to me.

“Coming, sis?”

I closed my book, placing it on the grass in front of me, admiring the evergreen cover and its shadows.

“I don’t know,” I replied, “Might go to Rosie’s. Crawling around in an unfinished building seems more like a boy’s day.”

“As opposed to what?” Sally asked from his bike seat as he popped a wheelie. “Playing Barbies?”

“As opposed to coming home smelling like a sewer?”

“Never gonna let that go, are you?”

“Nope.”

Charlie snickered. “Get a room already, you two.” When we fell quiet from gagging on the thought, he told us all to follow him.

I reiterated my desire to stay back.

“Don’t be a girl!”

“I am a girl, Charlie.”

“Well,” my brother said, swinging his leg over the bike to meet the other, and lowering its frame to the curb in front of me, “I guess you won’t be needing this, then.”

Without warning, he snatched my book, holding it above his head. He’s taller, and there was no way I could reach the open pages he held by the spine.

Charlie! Give it back!

“Sally, run!” Charlie called, abandoning the bike and sprinting down the street toward the looming husk of metal and plywood sheets. Sally pedaled fast enough to pass me. Charlie cackled as I took off after them. Teddy, finally having realized what was happening, told us to wait for him.

The skeleton of a house peered down on the four of us, wood bones and naked studs visible from the edge of the driveway as we all struggled for breath. My hair was damp on my shoulders and Charlie’s face was drenched. Teddy finally caught up as I recovered enough momentum to punch Charlie in the arm and snatch my book back.

“You’re a jerk,” I told him.

“Hey,” he panted, “it got you to come with us, didn’t it?”

“For now,” I admitted. “Why do you need me here, anyway?”

“Because when Teddy falls through the floorboard, someone neutral can tell Dad what happened, and I might survive until college.”

“Hey!” Teddy gasped. None of us heeded him.

“Great,” I said, “So I’m your stooge?”

“C’mon,” Sally replied, dropping his bike in front of the house. “Think of it as: we’re being responsible by bringing the most responsible of us along.”

“Still sounds like a stooge to me.”

“Maybe Teddy could hang back this time,” Sally said.

“No!” Teddy whined, but he offered no further defence of himself.

“Why don’t you go ask your mom, Teddy?” I asked. Charlie studied me a moment, mouth soon stretching across his face in a grin, likely kicking himself for having not thought of it himself.

“Yeah, Teddy,” he said, “and then meet us back here.”

Too young to understand the implications, he enthusiastically agreed and continued on in the direction we had come, disappearing along the side of Sally’s house.

He wouldn’t be back that night. Probably because his parents are uptight and would balk at the suggestion of wandering around an unfinished house.

“Nice work!” Charlie told me. “Trick the kid into a voluntary lockdown. You are ruthless, sis.”

I shrugged. “Little finesse goes a long way.”

“Admit it. You don’t care for him, either.”

“No,” I said, “but he doesn’t worship me like he does you. Or Sally, for that matter.”

Sally snickered. “Hear that, Charlie? We’re gods.”

“You enjoy that,” I retorted, looking back to my brother. “Can I go home now? I got rid of Teddy for you. Mission accomplished.”

Arms crossed, he frowned at my lack of enthusiasm.

“C’mon Harper. Live a little. Don’t be Dad. He’s just been….weird since Mom died, hasn’t he? Don’t be Dad, okay?”

I rolled my eyes, not really wanting to get into it with Charlie about our mother. It’s not like he was the one to find her body. It’s not like he was the one in therapy.

Just going along with it seemed easier.
***

The inside smelled like mouldy pine.

Our neighbourhood is one of the oldest in this area. Inside the original cocoon of properties, new ones are rare, while cheaper, quickly built sections rise up a couple streets over.

Dad calls this construction site “the invasion’s beginning”. He knew the field we used to run and play and return from, caked in dirt, would end up with those cheap houses sitting on them.

The unfinished floors creaked as we traversed them. Not all were in place, some leaning against the joists, reaching into darkness below. Wall frames were a blank canvas some family would eventually hang smiling pictures and kids’ artwork. Dying sunlight pouring through the open roof made them look like windows into another life.

“Why are we here again?” I asked.

My brother, shrinking his shoulders as he attempted to muffle the weight of his body on the weak floors, said nothing.

“If we can find some copper wiring,” Sally said, “we’ll sell it to Benton Read’s old man at the scrapyard. Shit should net us some change.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Let’s check out the upstairs,” Charlie said, “We’re losing light.”

Sally and I filed up the unrailed stairs behind them, as they groaned under our sneakers. Before the ground floor passed from my line of sight, I looked out at it, and I could see the safety of our little street through unfinished walls.

“Hey,” Sally said as we reached the top, even more incomplete than the level below, “y’all heard of this thing called the Internet? Apparently, you can connect with other people’s computers from your own. Crazy stuff, I tell you. Grandma won’t even let me have a computer, let alone mess with this Internet thing, but Benton was telling me about it. His mom has this thing called AOL.”

“Probably a fad,” Charlie remarked, “Who on earth needs something like that?”

“Dude, I’m telling you. Went to his house and saw this thing. Fucking amazing is what it is.”

“I’ll live in the real world, thanks.”

I broke off from them, lightly stepping to the phobia of falling through the floors. Through every door frame was an incomplete vision. Through every window with only sheets of plastic to keep the rain out, I felt like we were in a ghost story. Copy of The Green Mile under my arm, I felt a bit like a Paul Edgecombe, wandering the solitary hallway of Death Row.

Mom always said I live in my stories too much.

“Hey guys, check it out!”

Sally’s voice rang across the empty upper floor and I heard Charlie shush him. Nonetheless, we both converged on the top left corner of the house- what I could only assume would become the master bedroom. There, Sally stood by the window frame, head pressed into the adjacent wall panel.

“Check out what Mr. Locke is up to.”

Craning my neck so I could see past both of my taller accomplices, I only caught a glimpse of our neighbour, who was famously never seen.

“About time he came out,” Charlie remarked.

“How long since we’ve last seen him? Couple months?”

“Oh, longer.”

“Dad says he has walking problems,” I offered.

“Looks fine to me,” Sally replied, “Loading bags in the trunk of his car.”

“Wonder what’s in them,” Charlie said.

“Body parts, maybe?”

“That’s ridiculous,” I countered, “Mr. Locke is not a murderer. He’s just an old man who doesn’t get out much.”

“Harper,” Charlie said, “the dude looks like Edgar Allen Poe. No wonder you love him.”

“He does not. And I don’t. Ew.”

“Long hair, never brushed. Sunken eyes. Wears black clothes all the time. We see his black cat more than we see him. Wouldn’t be surprised if he owned a raven.”

“Does that thing even have a name?” Sally asked. “The cat?”

“I don’t know,” Charlie replied, “I just call him Creepy Neighbour’s Cat. Had to be black, too.”

“Aw,” I teased, “Superstitious, Charlie?”

“No.”

“He’s totally superstitious,” I told Sally, “Won’t even walk under a ladder.”

“Stop it, Harper.”

“Hey, you wanted me to come here. At least let me have some fun with it.”

“Shut up, the both of you,” Sally said, “He’s going somewhere.”

Over their shoulders, I could see the black sedan backing down the driveway and slowly veering to the left. We watched him casually drive away from sight and then focused our collective gaze on the house.

Of all the homes on our street, Mr. Locke’s is always tended the least. The grass is various degrees of brown and there are no shrubs or flowers, just holes dug in the lawn by neighbourhood dogs to compensate. It’s the kind of house parents tell their children to avoid at the same time as telling us to be home by dark.

“He has to be hiding something,” Sally said.

“You’re both being ridiculous,” I assured them, but the seed was in my head, too. Dad said he could barely walk and that’s why we never saw him, but he didn’t seem to have any problems.

“Next time he goes out, we sneak into his house,” Charlie declared, looking to me. “You too, Harper.”

I shook my head. “No, thanks. Don’t feel like Dad arresting us for trespassing.”

“You really don’t want to know if our neighbour is a fucking serial killer?”

Sally chuckled. “Yeah, for all we know, he could have the bones of a thousand children buried under his lawn.”

“I’m good,” I said. But as we strolled home and went separate ways with Sally, I couldn’t help thinking something was off about Arthur Locke. Just as I couldn’t get the sawdust out from my sense of smell, neither could I help agreeing with my brother and Sally.

Maybe I would take them up on the expedition yet.

Haven’s Fall: A Short Story

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Politics are a bleak affair.
God, I haven’t thought that way in years- at least, not since the town in which I’ve spent most of my adult life was terrorized by white nationalists.
It’s kind of hard to be an optimist when that same town gets taken over by an armed militia five years later.
I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t the cops come? Where was the National Guard? Why weren’t the feds sent in like they were five years ago when Viktor Quinn decimated this backwater shithole?
That’s part of the problem, though. Nobody wanted to live in Haven, Washington after that. The big companies that were still operating here pulled their franchises, and the small businesses were either hanging by a thread or already shuttered. The market price of my house sagged by a few fortunes, and my neighbours disappeared one by one.
Cynthia Harris next door finally keeled over. Stacy Thompson and her brood moved on, sans husband when she found out he was hooking up with some young thing in Paris or Morocco. Kind of like my ex-husband, who I hear was unceremoniously dumped on a cruise ship and had to share a room with the woman he left me for another week. Karma’s a bitch, I guess.
Even my friend Freddie, who lost his son when Haven was destroyed, has picked up his family and gone in search of greener pastures.
So to answer your question, the state police did come. They’re still stationed outside the town, somewhere. At least I hope.
The leader, Campbell Madison, tells me that’s his real name, but I’m not so sure. He’s a stocky man in his forties, decked out in a faded denim jacket with sleeves torn clean off- no scissors could be that imprecise- with a well kept goatee and slicked back hair. I met him from my television screen, as the standoff was quickly ended and the twenty-four hour coverage was more like twelve intense hours followed by static when Madison’s goons killed the cable.
Madison said we were free to leave, but the town was theirs. At first.
Now, on my knees, hands above my head, surrounded by men with shotguns and assault rifles; it doesn’t seem so likely we’ll be walking away.
My son Nathan and his girlfriend Nadia, both seventeen, imitate my posture, hands above their own heads.
Madison paces back in forth in front of us, in the very town square a supremacist rally cursed this town to be forever fucked up, double barrel shotgun over his shoulder.
“Just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”
I cast my child a look to keep his mouth shut. His hair is short now, but never will I forget the paralysis he fell into, and the long hair that touched the grass that night. Stubble is starting to sprout on his boyish looks, a quality he definitely didn’t inherit from his father.
“People need heat, Campbell,” I say, “They need power. You can’t keep us in the dark like this.”
Madison snickers, rubbing the side of his skull along the barrel over his shoulder.
“I’m in control here. Not you, woman. And in fact, I think the number of feminists in this country is quite the problem these days. So, you’ll understand if I’m very tempted to knock one or two out of existence.”
“Nice try,” I retort, eyeballing his attempt at intimidation. “I’m no feminist, Campbell. But hey, sure, kill a defenseless woman and two kids. I’m sure you have something in all that bigotry to justify it.”
But Madison is unfazed by moral reasoning. It’s in the cud he chews and the twisted flesh down his face and his equally scarred worldview.
He removes the barrel from his shoulder and points it downward, chamber exposed over his forearm, as he bends down to meet my eye level.
“This is my town now, Samantha. Hell, Viktor Quinn may have been a fucking idiot, and deserved every shred of evisceration his dead body deserved. Did you hear what happened? Yeah, some kids dug up his corpse and left it in the middle of town at a streetlight. How’s that for the tolerant left?
“Anyway, Quinn was a piece of shit, but he gave me and my compadres here a gift. A town no one would give two donkey shits about.
“I gave you and your family a chance to get out. But the government needs to learn their place. We aren’t one of these unarmed populaces. We keep the feds in line just as much as the goddamned Constitution. The Second Amendment gives us that power.”
“You’re delusional,” I say, “Viktor Quinn might have ruined this town, but you are ensuring it will never prosper again. All to settle some fucking grudge, right?”
“Oh,” Madison chuckles, standing. “Oh Samantha, it will prosper. This is a place the disenfranchised can come. We don’t have to be Americans here. We don’t have to pledge allegiance to the flag, because we burn the American flag here. It’s a liberal symbol. Here, in this place? My flag is my gun.”
“People need power, Campbell. You have older people here, children. They will freeze.”
“Kind of audacious to be making demands under the gun, ain’t it?”
“Well,” I say, “I’m an audacious kind of girl. Can I put my hands down now?”
Nathan looks at Nadia in panic, but the girl I took in at eleven years old after her entire family was murdered; who survived war in Syria and challenges settling into American life, is calm.
Madison nods and waves at us to lower our arms. My muscles are sore from the last ten minutes of holding the back of my skull.
“We can’t keep doing this, Sam,” he says, “Sooner or later, you’re going to learn the hard way who is in charge here.”
I stand slowly, only half of me waiting for his permission. My son and Nadia do the same, brushing off their arms and skeptically watching my stand-off with Campbell conclude.
Hopefully, not with all of us six feet under.
“If I restore the power,” he says, “Will you learn your place for a while? I have more important things to do.”
“What’s more important than ensuring the people under your leadership are safe and warm?”
Behind me, Nadia- the girl who survived war and famine and a journey across the ocean, only to be met with hate and skepticism and more violence- said the words that draw Madison’s ire. A number of his boys close in around her and Nathan.
Madison chews his tobacco loudly, shotgun still over his forearm. The November air around us drops in temperature and numbs my cheeks and fingers.
“What?”
Nadia speaks louder. Her accent is not as strong as it was years ago, but still cuts her words a different way than mine does.
“You say this is your town. You know who else said that? The army in my home country. But they killed more than they saved, and that is their legacy, long cemented. Will it be yours as well?”
Madison laughs. It is deep and slow and crawls under my skin.
“Little foreigner girl, you think you can make me feel bad for doing my God-given duty? Hell, you haven’t seen some of the things I’ve seen this country do to its citizens. You seen something, alright, but if you of all people cannot understand why I am making a stand against my state and federal governments; then, I’m afraid we have nothing left to talk about, other than how many bullets I can sink into you before you die.”
His words cut me just as deep as the laugh, even when they are not directed at me. And yet, I am usually the only one willing to go toe to toe with him.
“Then,” Nadia says, stepping forward, “it is a worthy cause. Do what you must.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Shoot me where I stand,” she says, “If what you say is true, that this is what God intended for you, then no woman or man should be able to stand in your way.”
“Nadia,” I say, but she doesn’t even look at me. Her eyes water and her lip quivers, but she stares at Madison, all of her attention on him.
“I’m sorry,” Campbell grins, “I could swear you’re taunting me to actually shoot you.”
“I am,” Nadia says, “We both know if you don’t, the men who followed you here will lose confidence in you. We both know if you don’t, everyone in this town will know you were too scared to put down your dissenters, and rise up against you.”
“Nadia!” Nathan hisses from behind us, held back by Madison’s men. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t want to live in this world, where men with guns own women and children. I have done this once.” She shakes her head, and her slowly freezing black hair flails in the strengthening winds. “I won’t do it again.”
“Nadia,” I tell her, “Let’s just think about this.”
“No, Sam,” she replies, still not looking at me, avoiding my gaze like she did when we first met and she cared for her father on the lawn separating our sloped driveways.
“And you’re sure this is what you want?” Madison says, “despite what your much smarter friends are telling you to do?”
She steps closer to him, so that they are almost touching noses.
“It is.”
The cold air falls silent. A light dusting has begun falling from the sky, trying to maintain frozen form but dissolving into water as the flakes settle on my hair and shoulders. Madison and Nadia study each other, each waiting for the other to stand down. Other than Madison chewing cud, everything is uncomfortably quiet.
Which makes the back of his hand striking Nadia’s cheekbone all the more sudden. She recoils, falling to her knees. Hair obscures her face, but the hand cradling it is clear.
“The men who followed me here are willing to die for this, just like I am,” Madison says, “But that doesn’t make us cold-blooded. It don’t make us killers. I am not Viktor Quinn. I will not indiscriminately kill people unless I myself am threatened! Same goes for all for you. That is the law in this town, and I’m your motherfucking sheriff. Get used to it.
“At the same time, I will not be cajoled or provoked into action! If you have a valid argument, bring it to me. If it is reasonable, I may consent. If it is not, I won’t. But if you turn irrational, or dangerous, I will have you put under guard!”
He looks from the crowd that has gathered around- even Nick Vance, one of Haven’s former deputies, has crept up behind us- down at Nadia.
“This is my town, little foreigner girl. But guess what? You’re not special here. I don’t see you as some subhuman vermin. No more than the rest of the people in this town, anyway. And I get it. You’ve probably seen things no child on this side of the Atlantic has. But at the end of the day; you live here, you obey.”
Madison turns to me. “I will restore the power. But telecommunication devices,” he says, raising his voice once again to the crowd, “-that is, cell phones, Internet modems, your grandmother’s fucking pager- are still forbidden! And God help the person who crosses me on that!”
As the crowd disperses and Madison summons his entourage of heavily armed guards to follow him, Nathan helps Nadia off the ground. They embrace and talk quietly to each other.
Five years ago, a group of supremacists hatched a plan to spark mass protests that brought the national media to town for the better part of a year. As I watch the back of Campbell Madison’s head, the vapour of my shallow breaths pouring out and up my nostrils, I can’t help but recall my friend’s words, spoken in another life.
Madison is a different beast. Between the slicked hair and confidence in the Second Amendment to protect him from the federal government, he’s a man with little taste for weakness.
It’s not going to be easy to liberate Haven.
“Mom?” Nathan says next to me, breaking my fixation on Madison, lighting a cigarette and conversing with his guards. “Mom, are you okay?”
“Yeah, honey,” I reply blankly, “I’m fine.”
“I think it’s time to call that moving company, don’t you? Get somewhere safe.”
I look at my son, with his father’s face and my eyes attached to him.
“You’re right,” I say, “Take the car and Nadia and go see your aunt Steph. She’s in Boston.”
“What?” Nathan protests, “I’m not going anywhere without you!”
I clasp him by his shoulders, like I did when he was young, and make him look me in the eye. Rather, make myself look at him.
“Nathan, listen to me! There are people here I need to help. Go somewhere safe. Drive, and don’t look back. No, don’t cry, honey. Drive. Drive far away.”
I push him away, the same way I push the tidal wave rising in my chest and the tears behind my eyes.
“Take her and go! Now!”
“Mom! No!” he says, but Nadia and I lock eyes, and she understands, pulling him away. When I’m sure he can no longer see me, I exhale all the breaths I’ve been holding.
When I open my eyes and my lungs are empty, I return to watching Campbell Madison, trying to devise a plan to wrestle the town back from his control. There are no good solutions yet, but something will come to me.
Revolution is a bleak affair.

Haven’s Fall is a short story which bridges Founding Fathers and its unnamed sequel, which will be available in 2019. You can also buy Haven’s Fall on Kindle.

TWELVE Review by Candice Louisa Daquin

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From a young age I recognized something irreplaceable about the kind of writing  that wasn’t neatly packaged into a ‘eat me now’ bite. Twelve isn’t a genre, it’s a diary that has come alive. I feel as if I shouldn’t be reading it because it’s like standing in a bathroom with someone throwing up, it’s feels wrong and addictive and horrifying and devastating and all the images Austin conveys burn into my retina and remain there, shocking, uncompromising and vivid. But Austin couldn’t ever look away, so neither can we. Austin can’t wake up tomorrow and call her mom, neither should we deny the hideous simplicity and infinite complexity of finding out the woman who gave you life no longer exists.

If I didn’t know Kindra Austin, I’d want to know her, it’s that simple. Her truth, the unashamed bright well written light on her pain, it makes you want…

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TWELVE REVIEW by Nicholas Gagnier

 

Let me speak plainly. Kindra M. Austin is not only my friend and an incredible writer, but my business partner at Blank Paper Press. If you are looking for a reflection of this book not steeped in bias, you may want to look elsewhere.

That does nothing to undermine my respect for Twelve, her newest release of poetry and prose. Nor does it mean I am incapable of critiquing it. As an anthology, it steers into its own darkness, and may not invite everyone quite like it spoke to me.

That said, Twelve is one of my favourite collections of the year, alongside Nicole Lyons’ Blossom and Bone and Austin’s novel, For You, Rowena. It ranks up there among one of the most heartrending collections I’ve ever read. This is because Twelve’s airtight narrative of bereavement gives you little breathing room against the barrage of Austin’s grief over the death of her mother.

You come to me often, and I can’t take it—seeing your Cheshire smile, and glittering eyes. I’d thought dreams of you would bring me peace, but those visions of you animated, and the dulcet tones of your voice, well-remembered, bouncing against the walls of my skull only cause me agony. 

I hold a wake with a devastated rib cage, fractured from the distension of a lamenting heart—my heart, it heaves, weeping tears of its own, crimson.

Wake, excerpt from Twelve

And this is not a beatification. There is a sad acknowledgement the relationship at the book’s heart was conflicted and imperfect, like any parent and child have. Yet, Austin comes out the other side more fond of her mother’s memory than not, and hopeful for the future. Nowhere is this more appropriate than Wedding Poem, which celebrates her newlywed daughter- an event Austin mentions in the fantastic opener Proem should have included her mother.

The imagery is bleak at times, but death and grief are not pretty affairs. It is Austin’s sheer command of the written word that bleak imagery is, in fact, imbued with more hope than hopelessness.

Happy Halloween—

you’ve been dead
twelve months 
today. 

Twelve, excerpt from Twelve

 

Poems like Someone Told Me I Was Queen and I Don’t Fear the Reaper are classic Austin I had seen previously, and was happy to see some of her best work included. But pieces I had not previously read- such as Thirty-Nine, Marbles and I Can Love September– made me stop and read them several times and gave the older poems new context.

Overall, Twelve is a collection which reminds us death is not about the dead, but those who are left behind. In Austin’s case, she has shaped it into a torch carried for hers, and wields it to light the dark ahead.

 

Coming in 2019: Mercy Road

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from the author of Leonard the Liar (free November 8 and 9 on Kindle) and Founding Fathers

Mercy Road is a coming of age tale set in 1997, and told through the eyes of Harper Whitaker, a young girl who has recently lost her mother. This leaves her in the care of her father George, who is a police officer, and Charlotte, her psychologist at the Mercy Road health clinic. It is during sessions with Charlotte that Harper recounts her struggles and grapples with morality after she and a group of neighbourhood kids discover a local recluse has been keeping a young woman prisoner in his cellar.

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