Author: Audrey Driscoll

Writer, gardener, lapsed cataloguer, and author of the Herbert West Series.

Brass sundial, back garden, kale tree, arugula and lavender in bloom, May 2019

Retread #6: Gardening and Original Sin

This post from February 2012 (with highlighting and strikethroughs added) gets another outing while I strip old paint, sand freshly exposed old wood, and brood over paint colour chips. (“Window Pane” or “Rainwashed” for the walls? “Morning Fog” for the trim?) The garden has received 40 mm (1.58 inches) of rain in the past two weeks, something for which I am thankful.

When I was young and brilliant, it occurred to me that agriculture was the original Original Sin. I was studying archaeology at the time, specifically the origins of agriculture in the Middle East 10,000 years ago. Some of the earliest sites with evidence of early crop domestication are in the Zagros Mountains, which are in the same region where the Garden of Eden may have been. Aha! Two plus two equals… whatever you like, if you have enough imagination. At the time (the ’70s) I was also an environmental idealist aflame on the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. (Better to be an inhumanist than a misanthrope, perhaps. But that’s another topic altogether).

When human beings began to manipulate their environment in order to favour the growth of particular plants, I reasoned, they broke a contract with the earth. They no longer simply took what was given to them, but thought they knew better and wanted to make things for themselves. Once begun, that process had its own logic. The initial improvements to species of grain-producing grasses and the environments in which they grew demanded further improvements and changes — permanent structures for storage, water diversion for irrigation of crops, roads and vehicles for transportation — civilization, in effect, which led to the internal combustion engine and the consumer society. Onward and upward, and look where we are now!

Human beings managed to exist as hunter-gatherers for many millennia, their tools made by bashing stones with other stones, and with fire a fickle servant, sometimes an enemy. Stones, fire and a way of life that changed very slowly. A mere ten thousand years of agriculture-based civilization has had a profound effect on the earth. And it all began (my youthful self reasoned) with the first gardens.

Why were the first ornamental gardens made, I wonder? I’ll bet it was when someone thought to arrange the plants grown for food in a visually pleasing way, or to include among them plants whose only purpose was to be beautiful. The grape vine in the mud-brick courtyard, with the perfume of roses and the sweetness of ripe figs — we who garden now can still appreciate that ancient image.

The present-day ornamental garden, some will argue, can hardly be blamed for environmental destruction. Suburbs were not built so that people could make gardens around their three bedroom bungalows. Many gardeners are keen to be green, especially if they also produce some of their own food. True, but what about all the chemicals and fertilizers dumped on that suburban feature, the perfect lawn? Not to mention all the drinking-quality water used to water it, and the gasoline-consuming, pollution-generating lawn mowers used to maintain it. Then there is the issue of invasive plants growing rampantly in ecosystems where they don’t belong — purple loosestrife, for example, which was brought to North America as an ornamental. We gardeners cannot consider ourselves collectively blameless, especially since most of us are also consumers and involuntary participants in the civilization that resulted from those first gardens in Eden.

Now that I’m older, things seem less neatly black and white than they once did. Original sin may indeed be a metaphor for agriculture, and by extension for gardening, but working the earth (as distinct from exploiting it) is a human activity with nuances of the sacred. The first farmers wove into their cultures ceremonies and sacrifices to appease the divine powers offended by their presumption. Our religions retain traces of these practices, and if cultivation of plants once set us on a path that distanced us from the earth, real farming and gardening may be ways to return.

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Back garden overview June 2019 with kale tree in bloom

The Marvels of May

May is over, but here is a bouquet of sights from my garden gathered during that month. It was a great year for irises. Two managed to bloom that had not for years, probably due to shade and dry conditions. And I have blue poppies once more. I can’t take any credit for them as yet; if they survive the next winter to bloom again, I’ll have something to brag about. The mass of yellow bloom on the right side of the featured photo is a giant kale plant, almost a tree.

Pale yellow irises with dark red purple bearded irises
These irises (names unknown to me) have always been here. This year they’re blooming better than normal.
Pale yellow irises
Dependable pale yellow iris, type and name unknown to me. They’re increasing nicely in the dry shade of the back garden.
Bearded iris, white with blue edge
Surprise iris (not it’s real name). I vaguely remember it in bloom many years ago. I moved it to a better spot a couple of years ago; it must be happy there.
Purple bearded iris
Another surprise iris, a big purple one this time. No idea when I planted it. It must have languished bloomless for years, until now.
Primula auricula in bloom with tomato plants and potted dahlia with blooming thyme in background
Primula auricula. I have two plants, which both bloomed well this year. Small tomato plants in lower left corner, sprouting dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff” above.
White foxglove with thalictrum behind
Volunteer (meaning self-sown) foxglove. It’s right at the front of a border, but I’m glad I didn’t weed it out.
White foxglove spotless
Close up of the foxglove flowers. It’s totally spotless; a plant elsewhere has purple spots inside the flowers.
Urban deer
Trouble in paradise — plant-nibbling urban deer. They cruise by regularly and sample the garden buffet. On the plus side, I’ve seen them eating bindweed.
Mixed foliage in the front garden with "Pink Panda" ornamental strawberry flowers
Mixed foliage in the front garden, with a few flowers of ornamental strawberry “Pink Panda”

Here are four photos of the two blue poppy plants I bought a few months ago. Their labels call them Meconopsis sheldonii “Lingholm” (grandis).

Rosa glauca, red-leaf rose, blooming in the rain
Rain-washed leaves and flowers of the red-leaf rose, Rosa glauca. The inch or so of rain was most welcome.

I’m looking forward to June, but sorry to see the end of iris time.

Retread #5: The Rules of Writing: Fun to Make and Break

A sudden painting project means at least one more retread for the blog. I saw a post about Elmore Leonard’s writing rules recently, which brought to mind this post from February 2012. No grumpiness warning needed.

Recently [in 2012] CBC Radio issued a challenge to its followers to write sentences breaking Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing. I suspect the assumption was that the results would be examples of really bad writing, and therefore chuckleworthy.

Setting the challenge aside here, I wonder if that assumption is justified. Surely it depends on what kind of thing a writer is writing. Rules that apply to gritty, hard-boiled urban fiction may be totally wrong for romance, or fantasy, or Literature with a capital “L.” There may be a few fundamental rules that apply to all writing, but I’m not sure that Elmore Leonard’s list qualifies.

I have to admit, this topic of Rules of Writing is one that I find hard to leave alone. It’s like salted nuts, or maybe like a burr, because I find such rules irritating. Never mind whose rules they are; as soon as I perceive that someone is pontificating to writers (even other writers), I go into combat mode, or at least argument mode. A year ago the Guardian newspaper published writing rules by a large number of writers. Some are quirky, or just funny. From Canada’s own Margaret Atwood:  take two [italics mine] pencils with you on planes, in case one breaks and you can’t sharpen it because no one can take a knife on a plane any more. (But are those little stick-it-in-and-twist pencil sharpeners confiscated by security, I wonder?) See what I mean about arguing?

So what about Mr. Leonard’s rules? I agree with a few of them, such as the one about avoiding adverbs (words that end in “ly,” including “suddenly”) — and not just to modify “said.” Ditto exclamation points and dialect.  Also, I would add, italics.

But I think some of the rules are too restrictive. Yes, it’s best to carry dialogue with “said,” but sometimes you need another word, as when a character doesn’t just say something, but splutters, groans, sighs or mutters. Words like these add texture and juiciness. They should be used sparingly, like spices, but not banished from a writer’s vocabulary.

Come  to think of it, Mr. L. uses “never” way too many times in his rules.

Weather and description. Mr. L. says never to start a book with weather and to avoid descriptions of people, places or things. I think it’s a matter of degree. Having your character stand there like a dummy while you give a verbal snapshot of their clothing, hair and accessories doesn’t work. But readers want to know something about your main characters, including what they look like. The trick is to create vivid images of them by slipping details into sections of action or dialogue, so people don’t even recognize the descriptive bits as such.

As for weather and places, these can be opportunities for “beautiful writing,” the kind that gives the writer a frisson when he or she reads it over at the end of a writing session. The trouble is that readers don’t always share those frissons and often skip over those sections to find out what happens next. Sad but true, at least for plot-driven books. Writers of the literary type may get away with beautiful writing, because they attract readers who enjoy that sort of thing.

Rule #10 is one of those sneaky lines that gets remembered and quoted; it’s also guaranteed to induce anxiety in the insecure writer (and just about all of us are insecure at some point). “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” So what parts are those? Here is my quick top-of-brain list of what to look for in your never-ending revision sessions:  1. Long paragraphs that contain extended descriptions or backstory, even though the writing is beautiful. Consider cuts or moves. 2. Extended sections of dialogue with no action, especially those where the speakers are not identified. 3. Long action sequences of the sort where all hell breaks loose for several pages. They may be crammed with verbs, but when they go on and on, the little movie-maker in the reader’s brain gets tired and wants a break. Have your characters go for a drink and talk about the weather.

Image from Pixabay

Retread #4: Hey, There’s That Dog Again!

Continuing the “retreads,” posts from my archives, here’s one from July 2014. It was read by only one person on its first outing, as far as I can tell. And this was before a dog joined our household. Now, with four retreads, I have enough wheels for a vehicle. Oh wait — I might need a spare.

Our dog, Nelly the Newfoundland, at Genoa Bay in January 2019.

I’m a big fan of Gary Larson’s Far Side and rue the day he stopped drawing those bizarre and wickedly funny cartoons. One of my favourites shows a couple of typical Larson cows discovered in the act of drawing a meat chart of a human figure. The caption reads: Farmer Brown froze in his tracks; the cows stared wide-eyed back at him. Somewhere, off in the distance, a dog barked.

I recently read a review of a book I’m reading — Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven — taking the author to task for ending a scene with the “ultimate cliche” of a dog barking in the distance.

I googled the phrase, wondering just how much of a cliche it could be. A 2010 article in Slate listed authors from James Joyce to Jodi Picoult who have put variations on this barking dog into their novels. Kurt Vonnegut used it consciously as a kind of leitmotiv in Slaughterhouse Five.

Side note: compiling this information is a lot easier now that ebooks can be searched for particular words or phrases. I’m betting the average reader would hardly notice these recurrent dogs (except as they are used in Slaughterhouse Five, where they are meant to be noticed).

Eventually, an uneasy feeling crept into my ruminations. Could there be — oh, surely not! — a barking dog somewhere in the Herbert West Series, written by one A. Driscoll? I pulled up the books on Adobe Reader and searched on “dog.” And there it was, in Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure. Young Herbert West, during an awkward “date” with a girl called Violet, hears a dog barking in the distance when he should be carried away with the thrill of kissing Violet.

Well, dang!

So really — what’s going on here? Why do so many writers, including quite a few highly-regarded ones, make this barking dog an accessory to scenes in their novels? In my case, it was unconscious. I lived the scene as I wrote it, and I heard that dog. Revisiting this scene in the course of multiple revisions of the text, I never considered deleting the dog.

That Larson cartoon is a parody of the Moment of Crisis, as when Farmer Brown realizes those cows are Up To Something Serious. Even while laughing at the cartoon, I was reminded of similar moments in various novels, where a terrifying realization breaks upon the protagonist. They know I’m a fake. He’s planning to kill me. Those things aren’t human.  Here, the barking dog is more than a filler; it’s a reminder of the ordinary world in which the terrible thing is happening, highlighting the contrast between the mundane and the terrible.

If you find a barking dog in a piece of your writing, put out the dog and reread the paragraph. If its fine without the dog, leave it out. If a necessary tinge of poignancy is missing sans dog, let it back in.

Things other than dogs may serve the same purpose if the presence of a dog is either implausible in the situation or the writer is dutifully trying to avoid cliches. Consider the following:

A bird sang far away, and another replied, nearby.

A little breeze stirred the curtains.

A moth bumped against the lampshade.

A burst of laughter erupted from the street.

A siren wailed in the distance. (This one may be just as common as the dog).

On the other hand, the barking dog may be seen as a secret detail that unites a diversity of writers. William Faulkner, Jackie Collins, Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King and Henning Mankell are all members of the Order of the Barking Dog. So am I.

Cartoon image from:
https://www.commonsenseevaluation.com/2016/01/21/cartoon-of-the-day-farmer-brown/

Orange tulips and forget-me-nots with iris cristata and molinia caerulea variegata

Spring Sights: Tulips and More

I took these photos over several weeks in April and early May. Of course, gardens never stay the same. By now, tulip time is over and we’re into iris time.

Red tulips from above
These are the tulips that used to be pale pink!
Tulipa batalinii
My favourite little species tulips, Tulipa batalinii
Red and yellow parrot tulips close up
Zany parrot tulips up close
Lamium maculatum "Friday"
Foliage effects: Lamium maculatum “Friday” and hardy cyclamen
London Pride (Saxifraga x urbium) and broken pot fragments
Making the best of a broken pot with “London Pride” (Saxifraga x urbium) and moss
Bluebells and cute pink watering can in front of shed
That photogenic watering can again! Looks even better with the bluebells in front.
Bluebells and white lilac
Bluebells and white lilac brought indoors.

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Afterword

As the infernal ice cream truck’s taillights vanish into the night, I thought I would answer some of the questions readers might have about the story without even realizing it.

What gave me the idea for the story? Late one afternoon years ago, possibly in September, I heard the unmistakable sound of an ice cream truck’s unmodulated tune close to my house. That was weird, because I’d never heard one around here before — or since, come to that. There is a popular public beach not far from here, and maybe ice cream trucks visit it in summer. Maybe one of them turned on its music en route. But it was the wrong time of day and year — odd enough to make me wonder about it. The phrase “ice cream truck from Hell” popped into my mind uninvited. And I’m pretty sure the tune it was playing was the one known as “Brahms’ Lullaby.” Apparently it is in the repertoire of real ice cream trucks, like this one.

A couple of years later, I started writing the story, but abandoned it after a few pages. It stayed in my mind, though, and when I recently read a couple of serial stories on Beetleypete’s blog, I decided to try writing one myself. I remembered the ice cream truck story and publicly declared I was going to finish it and get it blog-ready by the end of April. And now I’ve done it.

For some reason, I had the devil of a time (ha ha) writing the story. For one thing, it kept trying to be in first person, with Will as the narrator. I didn’t want to do it that way. I’ve written a bunch of novels in first person. I love first person. But I wanted to do this in third person, from Will’s p.o.v. but not narrated by him.

Once I wrestled it into third person, I had to deal with the Graveyard Scene. “What graveyard scene?” readers will ask. The one I deleted. The boys were to hide in a graveyard after running away from the devilish driver of the ice cream truck. I thought this would be a nice little twist, since graveyards are usually considered anything but refuges, especially at night. I even had Doof camping out in a graveyard, behind a mausoleum. But it just didn’t work, geographically or logistically. When I cut the graveyard scene, the whole thing began to come together.

Something I’ve found while editing recently, is the effectiveness of moving paragraphs and sentences around. Not deleting and rewriting, just changing the order. Of course, some deleting and rewriting is needed after doing these shifts, to clean up the seams and edges, but it’s amazing how shuffling blocks of text around can improve the flow of a piece of writing.

Finally, those header images. I put them together on Canva long before I finished writing the story. The time and effort I invested on them was an incentive to get the damned thing (ha ha) finished. One of them is kind of comical, the other creepy. I couldn’t decide which one to use, so I kept both of them, using the comical one for the first three parts and the creepy one for the last four.

Thank you to everyone who read the story and offered encouraging comments. I can feel Will and Doof wanting me to keep writing their story, but so far I’m resisting. (But will Doof ever want to get away from Mr. Phlogisto? How did Blaze, Pyro, and Ember come to work for him? And what about Will? Does he continue to defy his dad’s bullying? Does he ever meet up with Doof again? Hmm.)

Finally, here’s a discussion from 2006 about annoying ice cream trucks. The sixth item, by someone called Olena, sounds eerily familiar!

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 7

Three shapes surrounded them as they approached the ice cream truck. In the uncertain light from a distant streetlight and the multicoloured whirl of the ice cream cone on top of the truck, it was hard to make out their faces. All three wore black coveralls with some sort of red symbol on the breast pocket, the same outfit as Doof’s. One of them might have been a girl.

I’m dreaming, thought Will. This is a dream, so don’t worry, just go with the flow.

“Blaze, Pyro, and Ember,” said Doof, pointing to each of them in turn. “This is my friend Will.”

“Another new hand?” said Blaze. He pushed his face close to Will’s, close enough that Will smelled something like hot motor oil and saw a tiny tattoo on the boy’s cheek. Three points joined at the bottom. A trident, same as the symbol on their uniforms.

“N-no! Not me!” Will backed up a couple of steps. “I was just talking to Doof.”

“Doof! That’s not his name. He’s Ash.”

“I got a new name. That’s part of the deal.” Doof was still wearing that goofy grin.

“Okay, Ash, how about we get your friend a treat? What would you like, Will? Popsicle or ice cream cone?” Ember was a girl. She had a trident tattoo as well.

Remember, you’re dreaming. “I’ll have an ice cream, please.”

Ember jumped into the back door of the ice cream truck and appeared in the sales window. “I recommend Cinnamon Glow. It’s one of our starter flavours. You wouldn’t be able to handle Sulphur Surprise, never mind a Brimstone Sundae!” She popped a scoop of bright red ice cream into a black cone. As she handed it to Will, her sleeve pulled up, revealing an iron bracelet that looked too heavy for her wrist.

The ice cream glowed like a live coal, but tasted cold. As Will swallowed, his sinuses filled up with hot cinnamon, like he’d just swallowed a handful of red heart-shaped candies. He shuddered and took another lick. He couldn’t stop.

“Who do you guys work for?” asked Will.

Blaze, Pyro, and Ember looked at each other. “The Boss,” said Blaze.

“The man downstairs,” said Pyro.

“Mr. Phlogisto!” said Ember.

A sharp snap-crack sounded nearby. “Heya, heya, kids! Time to pack up! Nothing doing here.” That buzzing voice again. Blaze, Pyro, and Ember scrambled toward the truck and the figure that stood near it. It was freakishly tall, probably because of the two upward-pointing projections on its head.

“I’ve gotta go, Will.” Doof’s head swivelled back and forth between Will and the ice cream truck’s driver.

Will threw the remains of his ice cream cone on the ground, where it burst into flame and vanished. He turned to Doof.

“Do you know where this ice cream truck comes from?”

Doof nodded.

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Not as much as coming home and seeing my dog hung up dead.”

“Well, I guess I won’t be seeing you at school anymore,” said Will.

Doof nodded again, with a smirk.

“Do you get paid? Like a real job?”

“Room and board,” said Doof. “But that’s not all—”

A sharp snap-crack sounded nearby.

“Hey Ash! Time to go. The Boss is getting impatient. ‘Bye, Will!” Will wasn’t sure who said what as the three piled into the truck.

“Okay, I’m coming!” Doof’s voice broke Will’s trance. “Not just room and board,” said Doof, “They grant wishes! I wished for a dog and—” He glanced at the truck, whose engine fired up, shooting flames out both tailpipes. “‘Bye, Will. Maybe I’ll see you again someday.”

Doof held out a hand. As they shook, Will saw a bracelet just like Ember’s on Doof’s wrist. “C’mon Gryph!” Doof ran to the truck and jumped in, the dog hot on his heels. The doors banged shut and the service window slammed down.

The driver stood near the truck. A pair of glowing red eyes focussed on Will. He felt their heat moving around his face, exploring it, memorizing it. The figure lifted a hand and pointed at him. A grin appeared below the eyes. A whip cracked, shooting purple sparks into the air around it.

A dream, it’s only a dream. But something curled around Will’s ankle, hot and stinging. He turned and ran until his chest was about to explode and he tripped and fell.

The truck rolled down the road, leaving Will lying there, quivering, alternately hot and cold. That frenetic music floated back to him, slowly fading into the distance. Lullaby and good night. Did we give you a fright? We’ve got fire and ice. You don’t have to be nice… The music turned into a siren. Now the ice cream truck was an ambulance from hell. Its mission was hurting, not helping. Only those that deserve it.

Will turned and shambled in what he hoped was the right direction. It seemed a lot farther than he remembered. A patrolling policeman spotted him and took him home.

Will’s Mom kept him home from school the next day His head ached and his stomach roiled queasily. When he felt well enough to get up, it was almost supper time. Putting on his socks, he noticed a narrow red line around his left ankle. It tingled when he rubbed it.

His dad was in the living room. The newspaper he was reading descended a few inches when Will came in. “Feeling better, son?”

Will nodded.

“Ready to tell me what you were doing last night?”

Will shrugged. “Not really.”

Will’s dad folded his newspaper and stood. “Answer me properly. You were with that lowlife kid, weren’t you? Harold somebody. Am I right?”

Will stared at a headline. Fire at Shady Grove Trailer Park. One Man Dead.

“Actually, Dad, you’re wrong.”

THE END

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 6

That night, Will dreamed a dog was barking, barking, barking. Then he was awake. His clock said 3:09. What a weird time to be awake. He didn’t have to pee, but he went and did that anyway, to make being awake feel normal. Before getting back into bed, he looked out the window. Just in case.

Faintly illuminated by the light on the street, a dog sat on the front walk. A big dog, really big, wearing a collar that glowed in the dark.

The dog from the ice cream truck.

Will pushed the window open and leaned out. The dog raised its head and looked right at him with eyes that glowed like a flashlight whose battery was almost dead. It had something in its mouth. It dropped the thing onto the pavement, a dark, shapeless object, not very big. Shapeless until the dog nosed and pawed it into a recognizable shape.

A baseball cap. Doof’s ball cap?

“Doof?” Will hung out of his window and looked around. Why would the dog have Doof’s cap? If Doof was nearby, he’d be wearing it. The dog settled down on its haunches again. It was waiting. Waiting for Will. The dog wanted him to go with it.

Will pulled on some clothes and crept down the stairs, just like the night he’d sneaked out to meet Doof and look for the ice cream truck. Except this time he didn’t stop every time a step creaked; he just hoped his parents wouldn’t wake up.

The dog met him halfway between the back door and the driveway. It was carrying Doof’s cap again.

“Do you know where Doof is?” asked Will. The dog’s collar wasn’t spitting sparks this time, but it was glowing a faint orange, same as the fur on the backs of the dog’s legs and its tail. It turned and trotted toward the street, where it stopped as if waiting.

Will followed the dog, who loped purposefully along, heading toward that fringe of downtown where the boys had first had a good look at the ice cream truck. This time, the gas station was closed and dark. No one was around. They crossed the train tracks and headed toward the empty lot where the truck had been that time.

There stood the ice cream truck, with its kaleidoscope of flashing lights. Will stopped and stared at it, but the dog kept going. When it realized Will was no longer close by, it stopped and looked back at him.

The dog turned and shambled toward Will. It thrust its snoot up and shook the baseball cap. Its eyes glowed dark orange, but Will thought they looked sad. Sad and impatient, as though the dog was thinking “How long is this chump going to stand there?”

“Okay,” he said, “I’m coming.”

As they approached the ice cream truck, a figure detached itself from its black shadow and came toward them. The dog lurched into a run toward it. It was Doof. He wore black clothes that looked like some sort of uniform.

“Hey, Will,” said Doof. “You got my message. Good boy, Gryph!” This to the dog, who capered around him. Doof took the ball cap from its mouth, shook it out, and put it on his head.

Doof held a popsicle that glowed like it was red hot, but he put it in his mouth and licked it. He grinned. “Delicious.”

“What… what’s it taste like?” said Will.

“Red hot cherry ice,” said Doof. “Want to try?” He held out the popsicle.

“No. No, I don’t. Did you buy it?”

“Nope. It was free.” Doof gestured toward the ice cream truck, whose lights dappled the trees, the grass, and the pavement with splotches of yellow, orange, and red. Music welled from the truck, low and menacing.

“I thought something bad happened to you,” said Will.

“Something bad, something good.” Doof took another lick of the fiery popsicle. Little drops of molten flame dripped from it, hissing when they hit the grass.

“I even went to your house—I mean, your dad’s house. His house trailer.”

Doof pulled the popsicle from his mouth. “You saw my dad? Talked to him?”

“I thought you might be sick or something.”

“Sick! I would have been, if I’d stayed with that bastard. Maybe even dead. I know places to go. I can look after myself. I have friends.”

“You mean those guys?” Will pointed to a couple of shapes near the ice cream truck.

“Maybe. But this guy for sure.” Doof put his hand on the dog’s head.

“I told your dad you wanted a dog,” Will said. “He started yelling at me to get lost. I ran away. I was scared.”

“He killed my dog,” said Doof, throwing the popsicle stick into the bushes. It burst into a shower of sparks that lasted for a few seconds and winked out one by one. “That night we came out here. Well, he wasn’t really my dog. He just hung around the trailer park, but he was my pal, you know? My dad—that bastard killed him and hung him up behind the trailer. I saw him hanging there when I got home. That was when I decided—”

“Geez, Doof. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Well, things are different now. Now I have my pal here. Name’s Gryphon, Gryph for short. Come and have a popsicle. Or an ice cream. First one’s always free.”

“You sound like you work for… them. Whoever they are.”

Doof grinned. “I sure do. Come on.”

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 5

Doof wasn’t at school on Monday. Or Tuesday. On Wednesday, Will went to the school’s office to ask if Doof had been reported sick. The lady who usually sat in the office wasn’t there, but Will heard people talking in the Principal’s room, whose door was open.

“I think it’s time we did something about the Duffy boy.” Will’s ears pricked. The Duffy boy, that was Doof. “He’s missed three days already this week and I’m pretty sure I know why.” Will recognized the voice of Ms. Lacy, the school’s guidance counsellor.

A man rumbled an answer. Will couldn’t understand what he said, but he knew it was Mr. Springer, the Principal. “What about the mother?” Mr. Springer must have turned or talked louder, because Will heard this just fine.

“She’s not in the picture,” said Ms. Lacy. “I gather she’s left the home. It’s just Harold and his father. They live at that Shady Grove Trailer Park. Not a great place. I think something bad happened last summer. I think that boy is in trouble.”

“We don’t want to act prematurely,” said Mr. Springer.

“Better to deal with the child welfare people than the police.”

Ms. Lacy appeared in the doorway of the principal’s room. Will ducked behind the counter and out of the office before she could see him. Was Doof in some sort of trouble? Why would Ms. Lacy think they might have to deal with the police?

After school, Will decided to go to Doof’s house and see if he was okay. Maybe he had a bad stomach bug or something, and no mom to look after him. Or maybe he’d gone back to the ice cream truck and the driver had done something to him. The Shady Grove Trailer Park was in the opposite direction from Will’s house, the part of town that Will’s dad called “the local slum.”

The trailer park’s name was the nicest thing about it. The trailers were old and looked like they were sinking into the ground. A few of them had little patches of grass and flowers outside, but most were surrounded by weeds and junk. Will asked an old lady if she knew where Mr. Duffy lived. She stopped sweeping her walk and stared at him.

“What you want with him, kid? He’s kinda mean.”

“Well, actually, I’m looking for Doof, uh, Harold. His son.”

She frowned, clutching the broom. “Haven’t seen him around the last few days. Maybe he run off too. Wouldn’t be surprised.” She frowned. “Tom Duffy’s trailer’s right at the back.” She pointed down the dirt road. “Just go to the end of the road. That’s the right place for him, all right.” She snorted.

Doof’s dad’s trailer made the others look good. It had once been white, but now was a mottled grey. Bags of garbage slouched near the door, the steps were broken, and a rusty barbecue with a missing wheel leaned nearby. A couple of crooked posts held up a dirty sheet of corrugated fiberglass over the entryway.

Will stepped up to the dented door and knocked. Nothing happened. He made himself knock again, louder, and waited, looking around. A wreck of a car peeked out of a thicket of bramble bushes. Behind the car, an old brown blanket hung from the branch of a tree. Something about its shape bothered him, but before he could get a better look, a couple of thumps sounded from inside the trailer, followed by shuffling. The door creaked open.

Mr. Duffy was a big man. His stomach loomed over Will like the moon, a T-shirt cratered with stains and holes. Will waited for him to smile, but he didn’t.

“Who’re you and what do you want?” Mr. Duffy’s voice sounded like it came out of a bowl of thick oatmeal.

“Uh, I’m Will. I’m looking for Doo— Harold.”

“Don’t know where he is. Little bugger should be at school. You too, kid.”

“School’s out for the day. He hasn’t been there all week. That’s why I came. I thought he might be sick or something.”

“‘Or something.’ That kid’s never sick, except in the head. He’s not here.”

“I guess he’s missing then. Don’t you think you’d better call the police?”

“I don’t talk to cops. Don’t you sic the cops on me. Kid’s probably gone to visit grandma. Now get lost!” He started to close the door.

Will felt a kind of sneaky relief. He’d tried. Now he could go home. But Doof had never mentioned a grandma.

“Mr. Duffy, did you know that Doof—I mean Harold—he really wants a dog?” The words popped out of Will’s mouth before he knew it.

“Dog!” Mr. Duffy made a gargling laugh. “No damned dog here. Not any more. I don’t like dogs, I don’t like cops, and I don’t like you either. Get lost before I run you off!” He slammed the door so hard, the posts holding up the fiberglass shuddered and a clump of rotten pine needles fell off it.

Will could go home now. Except he wasn’t done. He had to find Doof. That meant telling the police. Or finding the ice cream truck again.

By the time Will got home, he was tired and looked it. His mom poured him a glass of milk and gave him a couple of cookies. After eating and drinking, he went to his dad’s office and knocked on the door.

“It’s me, Dad. Can I come in?”

“Yes, you may come in, Will.” His dad looked at him over his glasses from behind a big pile of students’ notebooks. “What is it? I’m pretty busy.”

“Doof’s gone missing. He hasn’t been at school since last week. I’m kind of worried about him.”

“Doof?”

“My friend Harold Duffy. He came for supper one day, remember? Doof is his nickname.”

“I don’t approve of nicknames, Will. And I don’t approve of that boy, either. He struck me as a questionable type. I’m not surprised he’s left school. You’d best find some better friends.”

Will shrugged. “Doof’s my friend right now. I want to make sure he’s all right. Do you think I should tell the police that he’s a missing person?”

Will’s dad shook his head. “Waste of time. The police won’t listen to you. The boy’s parents are the ones to report him missing. But I’m sure he’s all right. That type is always all right, as much as they care to be. Don’t waste your time worrying about him. I very much doubt if he’s giving you much thought. Now, please excuse me, young man. I have work to do.”