Missing Chapter from APPARITION: Detective Grierson finding Matthew’s Body in the Barn (Happy Halloween!)
A policeman stands at the entrance of a huge old barn on 12th Line. He pushes on the old barn door, slowly opening inwards, and he peeks inside. Then he pushes it open some more, so that sunlight streams like rays of heaven into a dark wooden cathedral. He steps inside. He can see the boy standing, slouching forward against something along the far wall. It looks like something is sticking out of his back, and on the ground in front of him, the dirt floor is dark. The officer takes two steps in, stops, then steps back into the sunlight outside.
“The kid is in there. He’s dead. Call it in. Grierson too. And better tell the old man he’ll be coming in for questioning.” Then he turns, head down, and walks back into the barn.
Detective Dave Grierson arrives on the Telford property about 27 minutes after he gets the call. He parks his blue sedan on the long gravel driveway that leads from the road up to the Telford farmhouse, grabs a canvas bag from the car floor on the passenger side, and steps out. There are already three police cruisers and an ambulance parked ahead of him. He walks across a rough field to the right behind the house, towards the old abandoned barn. It’s one of those very faded forgotten buildings in the landscape that don’t catch your eye. There are two officers examining the exterior, two more inside, taking notes and pictures, and two paramedics standing by, waiting for their cue to take the body out. Grierson’s seen a couple of dozen or so murder scenes in his 20 years on the Grey County force. Mostly they’ve been the result of people getting on each other’s nerves. Also drinking, doing drugs and being stupid. But this Sorenson kid was an “A” student from one of the cleanest families in town. He knows the parents. They do fundraising every year for the Annual Police BBQ Picnic. He steps just inside the barn door and sees the victim, a dark-haired teenage boy, standing upright near the far wall. This is the oddest, most brutal murder he’s seen in years. This is going to be a very big deal in Grey County.
The barn is mostly empty, probably hasn’t been used in decades. He’d noticed a second outbuilding on the other side of the farmhouse, brown aluminum siding. That’s what the farmer uses for his tractor, other equipment. Not this one. He walks inside. There are a few broken and rusted pieces of antique-looking farm machinery, tools, and old hardware junk piled up in corners. Nothing out of the ordinary. No signs of vagrants. No recent garbage. No pop cans or beer bottles. Not a hang-out. No illicit business venue. Just a sad, abandoned piece of local history.
Grierson looks up, through the massive timbers and rafters, towards the roof. The grey boards are weathered and loose, a few missing. In the fragments of sunlight the air is filled with dust. He looks back down at the figure before him, propped up like a hunch-backed puppet standing, facing the back stall. Pinned there, it seems, by a pitchfork. “What the devil?” he mutters to himself.
Grierson walks in the direction of the boy’s body, eyes on the ground, scouring for footprints, markings, anything loose, anything odd. He walks a half-circle around the corpse. He’s guessing dead less than a day. He pulls a worn notepad from his bag, pulls a pen from his shirt pocket, and begins to write. Pitchfork entered abdomen at a near right angle, parallel to the floor. He digs into his bag and pulls out a small metal tape measure. The handle end of the pitchfork rests on a horizontal stall ledge about 44 inches above the ground, extending into the stall by about 13 inches, wedged tight between two vertical boards in the stall door, held in place by another horizontal beam inside the stall. The rusty prongs, now sticky and caked, protruding through the abdomen just below the rib cage and out the back by an inch or so, four of the five prongs clear through, one on the right scraping the body. It’s the rib cage resting on the pitchfork that’s kept him upright. Arms limp at sides. Blood running south from the puncture wounds, down the jeans, front and back, on the running shoes and the ground. Grierson stares at the young face. He watches a fly crawling across the lower lip, over the dried blood that spilt down his chin from his mouth.
No sign of defensive wounds. No sign of struggle. Was the penetration made before or after the pitchfork was wedged into place? Could he have been killed, then propped up in this position? And if afterwards, and the pitchfork wasn’t plunged into him, was he pushed into it? Facing it? Did he resist? And looking at the tips of the prongs, how much force to be run right through? Quite a bit of force he reckons. Quite a bit. Ridiculous, really. He continues to write, focusing on questions for the coroner. What’s under the fingernails, on the palms?
The legs are slightly bent at the knees and ankles, not taking the body’s weight. From a distance, it almost looks like he’s standing. Grierson pulls out a flashlight and takes a closer look at the straw floor around the feet. He brings the flashlight back behind the body and slowly circles the light onto the ground. He can see what looks like tracks in the straw and dust leading away and down the barn floor, the kind of trail that might be made by someone kicking up straw as they pace back and forth. He brings the flashlight back to the body. The running shoes are dusty, covered in dry streams of blood and bits of straw. Grierson stands close to the boy’s face now, bowed chin on chest, black hair hanging over the eyes, the buzz of flies in the air, and thinks. Matthew Sorenson. This was a decent kid. Then he nods to one of the paramedics, and they move in to begin the delicate task of freeing the body from the metal grip. He flips through a few pages of his notebook, looking for the Sorensons’ address. This part he hates.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of the central character in YA novels – namely, her personality.
Someone once told me that the key to the success of a particular, wildly popular novel was that the central character, a teenage girl, had hardly any personality traits at all. No obvious quirks or flaws or qualities. No distinguishing marks. Even her appearance was indistinctive. She was attractive, without any details.
The reason, he said, was simple. This allows every reader to put herself into the story, to imagine that she is the protagonist of the book, to fantasize that she is the heroine. Sure, things happened to the central character, and around her, but it is what life does to her that is important, not what she does with her life, he said. If a central character has a distinctive way of acting or thinking, it can interfere with the average reader imagining themselves being her.
I wondered about that at the time, and I still do, but it seems a little cynical to me. Maybe it is a good strategy for some YA writers, but I couldn’t imagine bringing such a girl to life. The only way I can bring a character to life on the page, to make her talk and think and feel, is to make her real to me – which means giving her all the complexity that I see in myself and in the people around me, and especially in the girls that I remember in my teenage years.
That means imagining a person who isn’t perfect, isn’t an angel or a saint or a genius or empty-head either. It also means imagining someone with a checkered history, with both precious and painful memories, with insecurities and doubts and fears and desires. She has to have scars, hang-ups and emotional baggage. She sometimes makes mistakes and has regrets. She isn’t a role model. She’s a human being in the midst of huge change, ie teenagehood.
I’m thinking about this because I sometimes get feedback from Apparition readers that they aren’t wild about my central character Amelia, saying she lacks confidence, suffers from too much doubt, and too much indecision about the boys in her life. Also, she thinks a lot, and ruminates about everything too much and seems to contradict herself sometimes.
But I’m happy knowing there are quite a few readers out there who do like Amelia, and cut her some slack. After all, she is suffering from grief and loneliness and depression, but she still has a sense of dark humour and she doesn’t run away when the going gets tough. She will walk alone into a haunted barn if she thinks she should – knowing that she won’t actually be in there alone at all.
In the end, I’m totally okay with readers who don’t identify with Amelia so much, because we don’t always identify with everyone we meet in real life and that’s okay. But I hope they will give her a chance, see that she is struggling to be a better person, and that, over time, she might even gain a little wisdom!
Grey County huge part of book
By Rob Gowan, Sun Times, Owen Sound
Sunday, December 15, 2013 2:31:13 EST PM
Gail Gallant wanted to call her first book Grey County because the novel wouldn’t exist without it.
“I would have never written a book if I weren’t here,” said Gallant, one of about 15 local authors gathered at the Ginger Press in downtown Owen Sound on Saturday for its 28th annual authors’ open house. “It is completely inspiredby the landscape. The landscape and the weather are all in there.”
The Annan-area author’s murder mystery thriller, Apparition, released in September, is set in and around Owen Sound and tells the story of a teenage girl name Amelia who sees ghosts and the adventures in her life it causes.
Gallant said the working title of the book was always Grey County because it seemed so natural. The name change didn’t come until she was looking for a publisher, which she found in Doubleday Canada (Random House).
“Grey County to me surmises the book,” said Gallant, who was a weekender in Grey County for about a decade before moving to the area about two years ago. “I have a lot of geographic references like Inglis Falls, the Bruce Trail and some of the local parks and cemeteries.”
While the area is known for its beauty, Gallant said in a different light it can also be a very spooky place.
“On our property we used to have a dead apple orchard and there was nothing more Tim Burton than that apple orchard,” said Gallant. “It is very spooky and I have to say it arose naturally from my own emotional response to the landscape and the history in the landscape.”
Gallant said she loves the delapidated beauty in the old barns that are scattered across the area and has always been obsessed with the old cemeteries throughout the countryside.
“I don’t want to get nostalgic like there is only history here, because there is also an amazing future,” said Gallant. “But I think there is something deep about the feeling of the past here.”
Much of the book centres around a haunted barn, which is based on a rundown barn at a property Gallant owned south of Meaford.
“Eventually we took it down because it was half falling down, but it was spooky and somewhere along the line I started imagining a story,” said Gallant.
It was about a dozen years ago and Gallant’s son was going through some tough times as a young teen and Gallant imagined a story of a ghost in the barn that was forcing young boys to commit suicide and it had to be stopped. Gallant, who kept the story in note form, couldn’t bring herself to complete the book until about four years ago, when she decided to tell the story through the eyes of a teenage girl, rather than a mother after her son — who is doing well now and works in a bookstore — bought her a book from the Twilight series.
“As soon as I adopted the point of view as a teenage girl, the book came out,” said Gallant, who is originally from Toronto and has worked in television as a producer and director for the CBC and done freelance work for about 20 years.
Gallant said the book has been categorized as for teens and she has received a good response from teen readers, but the book is also quite serious.
“It is not a fantasy, it is really dealing with things like death and loss,” said Gallant. “The narrator is probably a lot more confused and a little neurotic and troubled than the average teen narrator.”
Gallant has already written a sequel, called Absolution, that is currently in the copy editing stage. It is slated to be released next fall.
Gallant said the local landscape again plays a major role in the new book, which she feels is an improvement on her first.
“”Grey County is right through both books,” Gallant said. “I don’t think it could have been a bigger part of it.”
Maryann Thomas, owner of the Ginger Press, said Saturday’s event was an opportunity to bring together authors so they can connect and share stories and meet with the public. The event has turned out to be a celebration of local literacy in the community.
Thomas, who opened the Ginger Press 35 years ago, said the store has made a deeper commitment to new and old books by local authors and about the region and that has led to the store now having more than 70% local content.
“I think that is a phenomenal statement about the wealth of literature in the community,” said Thomas.
Teenage suicide plays a central role in my novel Apparition. That’s no accident. Suicide, especially amongst the young, is something I’ve thought about a lot, for a very long time. That doesn’t make me an expert. Just opinionated.
We all know someone from our teenage years who didn’t make it out alive, either because they committed suicide or died in what seemed like a willful act of self abuse. And many of us have lived with the terrible fear that someone we love is suicidal and we don’t know what to do about it. The suicide of a family member or friend is a unique body blow because that terrible pain is twisted with perplexity. It feels like the most unnecessary of deaths. Why couldn’t the murderer and murder victim come to some kind of understanding, reconciled, avoided this extreme and irreversible outcome? Surely something could have been done to prevent this?
But I know from personal experience how attractive the thought of suicide can be. The future can have such a bleak “no, not again” feel about it with no hope for change but only the intolerable sameness of the intolerable present. Nothing but more meaningless suffering and unhappiness. It’s like being on a train and you’re confident of where it’s headed, because it’s somewhere you’ve already been, somewhere you hate. The only desire you’ve got is to get off the train.
But if life is a train, we don’t know for sure where it’s going, we don’t know what’s around the corner, and it’s dumb to presume that it will be more of the same old horror. It’s a subjective and unscientific assumption. We might be wrong. We really don’t know what’s around the corner. Suicide is about powerlessness, hopelessness, despair. But it’s also about a failure of imagination. The future might be something different, unexpected. Something interesting. Not only because the train tracks are unpredictable – because WE are unpredictable too. There’s always more to us than even we can see.
I don’t know where I got the idea that the suicidal mood is like being possessed by a ghost, but I began to imagine that the suicidal urge passes when the spirit possessing you finally releases you and moves on. You just have to wait for the suicidal ghost to bugger off. Ride him out. It won’t take forever. It might only take a weekend. Being possessed by a ghost is a metaphor for a bad mood.
And that was the earliest seed of the Apparition premise: a suicidal teenage boy, and the desperate attempt of his sister to stop him from killing himself. It real life, it’s hard to get someone who feels suicidal to “snap out of it”. The dark circumstances of a personal’s life can seem so complicated and far-reaching. And we all know that there are other medical circumstances that can make a bad mood cling. But most of the time, if you can ride through a really dark mood, you often find that even a few days later, you feel a little better. And that’s a new beginning, and it could turn out to be much better than you’d imagined. You just need to hang around and find out.