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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.


Belief and Doubt

In many ways, APPARITION is about belief. The subtitle on the front cover is “Seeing Isn’t Always Believing” and that’s no accident. It starts in the very first paragraph: Amelia looks out her bedroom window into the backyard and sees her mother gardening. But Amelia’s mother died two years ago, and Amelia doesn’t really believe she’s seeing her mother at all. She thinks it’s only a figment of her imagination. That’s what her grandmother and psychotherapist have convinced her. So when she finds out that ghost-tracker Morris believes her, she is finally able to admit to herself that she believed she was seeing her mother’s ghost all along.

IMG_1120I find the question of what we believe and why we believe pretty fascinating, so it comes up a lot in my book. For instance, during Matthew’s funeral, the preacher talks reassuringly about how Matthew is now happy in Heaven. She would like to believe him, but she is skeptical. She is reminded of how Matthew used to comfort her by telling her that her mother was in Heaven – when Amelia kept seeing her gardening in the backyard. And as it turns out, Matthew’s not quite in Heaven either.

Sometimes we believe things are true or real because it makes us feel better, or makes life easier. Which is fine, although maybe it would be more honest if we said “I want to believe x” more often, instead of just “I believe x” – as in “I want to believe my dead friend still lives – somewhere, somehow.”

But sometimes we believe things that we don’t actually like. Bad things about ourselves, for instance – we are not good enough, that we are unlucky, or victims, or losers. The appeal of being a pessimist is that at least we don’t have to live with doubt. There’s a certain pleasure in being certain – even of something negative.

The more certainty we have and the less doubt, the more secure we feel. We want others to share our beliefs because it makes us feel more certain if they do. Being part of a crowd all believing the same thing can be a big comfort. Having doubts always makes you feel a little alone.

The belief in ghosts is usually built on personal experience, and so it’s quite right that it is never free of doubt. Ghosts don’t care if you don’t have proof that they exist, or any witnesses, or any emotional motivation for believing in them. But what I like about doubt is that it can lead us to think for ourselves more. And that’s what I like most about Amelia – she’s trying to think for herself, even when she’s not sure what she believes. And that’s one of the secrets of her courage, even in the face of creepy ghosts.

Wonderful article in the Owen Sound Sun Times

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.

1297504287441_ORIGINAL“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.

Want to Buy a Haunted House?

I’ve always felt that old houses give off emotions, and I’ve been especially aware of it when house-hunting. I know that sounds like basic psychological projecting, but I like to call it intuition.

I think emotions can linger in the air and penetrate walls like cigarette smoke. Most of the time I feel nothing in particular, or nothing that I can name, but every once in a while, there’s a sadness or fear or anger or happiness. Then there’s the whole issue of ghosts. I don’t normally worry about whether the house actually has a ghost, at least not during daylight hours.

Haunted house 2

There’s a beautiful old property with boarded up windows and a real estate ‘for sale’ sign only about 5 minutes away from our farmhouse in Grey County. I’ve been inside a few times, because it used to be a restaurant. In fact, it used to be three or four different restaurants over the last dozen years alone. None survived for very long.

I don’t think the problem was ever the food or service.  At least, that’s not what one of the servers in the second last restaurant establishment told us as she waited on our table. She said that everyone who worked there knew that the house is haunted. Specifically, there is a young phantom child, a girl, who hangs around on the second floor. Numerous patrons had seen her over the years.  She told us of a number of strange goings-on in the kitchen too. She even invited us to go take a wander in the empty rooms upstairs before we left, and we did. We didn’t actually see anybody up there but, well, I did have a funny feeling.

I wrote about this place in APPARITION. Morris Dyson tells Amelia about the house’s remarkable and rich history, including its time as a safe house on the Underground Railway for Africans escaping from slavery in the southern United States, and later, as a brothel serving the sailors passing through Owen Sound, a bustling port on the Great Lakes at the turn of the century.

The server also mentioned that the haunted history of the house was included in the legal description when the property last changed hands. Mark Weisleder is a Toronto real estate lawyer who writes a column in Toronto Star, and he had this to say about selling a haunted house: “My advice is that if you know about psychological defects in a property, disclose them and avoid unnecessary proceedings later. If as a buyer you are concerned, include a clause in your contract that the seller has no knowledge that the property is haunted and that no murders or suicides ever occurred on the property.” And if you buy a house that you later discover was known to be haunted, you can always sue. You might win your case.

So, will this house ever be a happy home again? With the big box stores moving ever further east along this stretch of highway leading out of Owen Sound, its future is more likely demolition for some big American store chain’s parking lot.  A sad end, when maybe all that ghost girl needs is a little human kindness.


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