Having presented me with a ten word challenge (and then rising to his own challenge in spectacular fashion), Nathan accepted a similar challenge in kind this week. For extra kicks I gave him two bonus words and he managed to weave them all into a wondrous original tale. The words given were: macabre, enunciate, ready, capsicum, mute, tidal, banzai, clairvoyant, decadent, and duende. The two bonus words were: fluctuate and verbose.
The scope of imagination at work is impressive. A round of applause and a hat tip is in order for sure.
Me No Duende
As necropoli go, Fort Dedmonton was a bit of a mess. One part faux Mayan pyramid, a touch of quasi-Buddhist temple, and 17% pseudo-Disney palace. Which made it a full-on hoarder's paradise. The look it was shooting for was some sort of Manse Macabre (get it?) but it fell somewhat short of that target and hit, instead, Decayed Decadent.
Guarding the entrance to the grounds were a pair of mismatched sentinels: a plastic skeleton with a Dia de los Muertos sugar skull and one of those old-school wooden indians. Last time I saw one of those was in a Stephen King novel. Above the gate a sign with day-glo letters warned you to "Abaddon hope if ye enter hear". Luckily I hadn't harboured much hope to begin with when I received the invitation to visit (at least it had been easy to find- take the Trans-Canada west all the way to Edmonton, turn left at Wayne Gretzky Drive and go 13 blocks, you can't miss it) so it wasn't hard to give the rest to Abaddon, and I went inside.
So there I was, not quite ready and not quite willing to see what Fort Dedmonton had to tell me. Not as a tourist, of course, but as a journalist. Turns out I was the only journalist there- no one from Edmonton had bothered to turn up- but there were others. There was a small woman who arrived at the same time as me. Once we were in the foyer, adjacent to the gift store, she handed me a card which said "Madam Silencia, clairvoyant". So far she hadn't said anything, and I guessed she was mute from her name. Also, there was a dog.
"If his name is Scooby, I'm going straight back to Saskatoon," I said.
My host roared out a too long, too loud, too jocular laugh. Oddly, I don't think it was forced. "Ha ha ha no," he said, in an asphalt voice that enunciated each 'ha' with strange delicacy, "that there is Tidal Wave, because he hits you like a tidal wave when you come home. He's here for the same reason you two are."
"Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. You said something about a zombie?"
"Ha ha ha no. Not a zombie. There's no such thing. No, this is different. But first, let me tell you about the history of my unhallowed ground. See, Edmonton is, how can we say, not exactly a tourist destination, you know, unless you like hockey and shopping malls. So I got to thinking, what does Edmonton mean? Well it rhymes with Dedmonton and that's what we always get called in the papers anyways so why not own it? Why not be the city of the dead? So I built this from the ground up, piece by piece. I even imported a sandstone brick from Egypt! Not from one of the pyramids, but no one knows the difference, am I right or am I wrong? Yeah, so it opened . . . "
"Yes, sir, I googled the place before I came. It's all online." He was very proud of the Egyptian brick.
That laugh again. He had bright blue eyes, and white whispy hair that stood straight up from his skull, which got redder the more he laughed. "Ha ha ha yes. Well. I'm sure you will put it all in your article at any rate. Now please, and you Madam Silencia, let's go in, shall we? Ha ha ha yes. Time for the grand tour."
The psychic and the dog and I followed him in. Above the entrance to the main exhibit or whatever you would call it, there was an exquisite bansai tree. Seeing such a thing of beauty was honestly the most shocking thing I'd seen thus far. "Did you, is that . . . your tree?"
"Ha ha ha yes! That? Yes. That's my banzai tree."
"You mean bansai?"
"Ha ha ha no. Banzai!" And with that the tree leaped off its creche towards Madame Silencia. She jumped, but uttered not a sound. Stupid thing was plastic, and rigged on a cable. I sighed. It didn't get much better.
It was a hodgepodge. It was a large room, kind of like a church sanctuary. Pillars everywhere, most of them not load-bearing as far as I could tell, covered in animal skulls. So many skulls. Elk, deer, bighorn sheep. Coyotes, bears, wolves. At least none of them were jackaloped. Spiral staircases going nowhere. Garish murals. "Is that the Ghent Altarpiece?" Excuse the journalistic lapse but I was like, wuh?
"Ha ha ha no. It's a Fort Dedmonton tribute- the Ghoul Altarpiece. See, all the figures are undead."
Like I said, wuh? Our tour continued, as the host prattled on at length about his various treasures and wonders. There was a stuffed puffin, for some reason. And a stormtrooper suit of armour, "movie-worn" as our host claimed, though what it had to do with a city of the dead was unclear. For a guy with some sort of supernatural haunting problem, he was remarkably verbose about the provenance of each of his little wunderkammern. Madame Silencia was quite clearly not paying any attention whatsoever.
Finally I interrupted. "This is all very, um, curious, but can we get to the part where you tell us about your ghost or your zombie or whatever?"
"Ha ha ha yes. Yes. Not a zombie. Ha. No. Tell me," and his voice took on a theatrical hush which was still louder than my normal speaking tone, "have you ever heard of a duende?"
"Certainly, my mother is from..."
"A duende is a Mexican ghost, a Day of the Dead vengeful spirit come to life to punish the living for, well, living."
"Actually, that's not the case at all..." It was no use, he just kept talking right over me. But if you are unfamiliar with duendes, they are a sort of Latin American goblin or gnome. Mischievous in the somewhat spooky sense that fairies often are, but also helpful in their own way. And also totally folklore and not real at all. Duh. Oh, sorry, journalistic lapse.
He droned on, and as he did, he pulled what looked to me like an Apple Remote out of his pocket, apparently unaware that I could see it, and the lights dimmed and eery theremin music started playing. I hoped we were about to watch some Star Trek on a big movie screen, but don't forget, we had to Abaddon all hopes before we came in 'hear'.
Instead, Tidal Wave began growling and barking. From a sarcophagus (a badly painted wooden replica of King Tut's famous coffin) on the other side of the room there emerged a ghostly apparition wearing a tattered red dress and that hipster day of the dead skull facepaint. She had a necklace of capsicums and garlic cloves. Tidal Wave bolted. Madame Silencia remained silent, and unmoved. I just turned to our host and said, "Seriously?"
I turned around and walked out. At least I figured out why no local reporters had come to his little publicity stunt. I fluctuated between complete rage and shaking my head and laughing at the sheer gall of the man. Either way it was a wasted trip. There was no way I was ever going to dignify his cheap ploy for free publicity by writing a story about him.
Except here I am writing a story about him. Ha ha ha yes. I know. Here's why. In the parking lot, just as I was about to get in my car and drive back to Saskatoon, Madame Silencia grabbed my arm and she spoke. At length. About things that no one in this world could possibly know. Things I'd never told anyone, that I was sure no one would ever find out about. How I lied and cheated and plagiarized my way into my job. Yes, this job, as a reporter for this newspaper. When she was finished speaking, I wept. And I got in my car and I drove home and I wrote this. This, my last article as a journalist, and my resignation letter, and my sincere apology for all of my journalistic lapses. I am sorry.
There you go, Fort Dedmonton. That's how you build a necropolis.
- Nathan Waddell