Uncharted, p.1

Uncharted, page 1

 

Uncharted
 


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Uncharted


  Also by Graeme Connell

  Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Summer of 1968–69

  (2011)

  Finding Dermot

  (2014)

  Uncharted

  An Inspirational Novel

  GRAEME CONNELL

  Copyright © 2016 Graeme Connell.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  Cover art: Broken Fences, watercolour, by Lois F. Connell

  Editor: Nancy Mackenzie, Bronze Horse Communications, Edmonton, Alberta

  Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  WestBow Press

  A Division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan

  1663 Liberty Drive

  Bloomington, IN 47403

  www.westbowpress.com

  1 (866) 928-1240

  Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

  ISBN: 978-1-5127-5143-7 (sc)

  ISBN: 978-1-5127-5144-4 (hc)

  ISBN: 978-1-5127-5142-0 (e)

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2016912323

  WestBow Press rev. date: 08/05/2016

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One

  Chapter Forty-Two

  Chapter Forty-Three

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Author’s Note

  For Lois,

  who brings colour to my world every day.

  Chapter One

  A hand brushes aside his scarf, and Brewster McWhirtle feels the softness of two warm fingers nudging their way toward his windpipe for the rhythmic beat of life. He stirs and slowly liberates the young lodgepole pine that has anchored him through the night. His arm is locked, maybe frozen; it hurts to uncurl his hand. His free arm, folded above his head, is stiff, the muscles beyond feeling.

  His cramped fingers rest on the smooth, flat rock he’d poked a few hours earlier under the low branches between the trunk and earth. Melanie, the laser etching says on the underside, Blue Aster.

  A slight nudge to his left foot. What’s that? A nosy coyote? Brewster lies still, half-frozen, half-asleep, facedown in dirty, slushy snow. How do I get out of this life? Again, a tentative tap-tap.

  Let me die.

  His leg twitches from the stiffness of the hours he’s been lying there. Cold, so cold. He turns his head a degree or two, licks and spits the muck from his lips.

  I should be unconscious by now. With no more pain. With no more daylight. Let there be peace.

  “Hey, fella, you okay?”

  Not a coyote, just the toe of someone’s boot.

  “Hello-o. Can you hear me?”

  Brewster inches out from the tree. His groan from the pain in his arms is nothing compared to the howling he did during the snowstorm in the early morning hours. The blood starts to run as he stirs—a severe case of pins and needles. Slowly he twists onto his side, lifting his dirt-smeared face toward the leaden sky.

  “I’m fine, just fine. Just wanna lie here, meld with the earth.” He gives a croaky laugh.

  Fresh, wet snowflakes decorate his dirt-smeared cheeks. He blinks. Through half-closed frozen lids, he squints at the shadow leaning over him.

  Just what I need—Ranger Rick to the rescue. Why can’t I just disappear?

  “Man, you okay? Looks like you’re in pretty bad shape,” the voice says. “Wassup? Name’s José. I’m with the parks service. Let me help you outta this wet snow and get you warmed up. Maybe go see if we can find a coffee.”

  “S’okay. I’m fine. Just wanna lie here.”

  “Nope. Can’t do that, buddy. You been drinking or something?”

  “No, no. I’m okay. Just got caught in this spring snowstorm. Then I figured, what the heck. Maybe it was meant to bury me here.”

  José interrupts, reaching for Brewster’s arm. “Now, that’s taking winter just a bit too personally, my friend.”

  Brewster, now half-sitting and resting on one very cramped arm, twists and gently shakes the snow off the pine branches. “This tree here …” He bats another branch, and snow falls on him. “See? It’s for my wife; we claimed it for her. She was killed. Year ago today.” Brewster mumbles to himself, “Just wanna …”

  “Here, lemme help you up.” José picks up Brewster’s numb, ungloved hand and pulls him to his feet, away from the partial covering of the little tree. “Think you can stand? How’re the legs? Pretty stiff, I bet. Easy does it. Steady, steady. Man, you’re a mess!”

  “I thought I was in the very best place when I started to feel drowsy. Lying here stretched out in a snowy blanket of silence. I don’t want to go on. I just don’t. She’s not here. This symbolic tree. Why am I here?” Fresh tears ripple down his muddy face. He stumbles as if blind as José leads him down the snow-covered hill.

  “My truck’s over here. I was looking out for who might belong to the SUV in the parking lot. No tracks around; looked like it’s been there all night. Just as well I spotted you. I actually cruised past and then thought, well, I haven’t seen that mound before. Might’ve been your black boot that caught my eye. Supposed to snow even more today, and if you’d stayed there much longer, you’d’ve been a goner, I reckon.” José keeps up his patter to encourage his stumbling, mumbling invalid. “Think I should maybe get you to emergency. Bit worried about hypothermia. You been there all night?”

  “’M okay. I’m fine, fine.”

 
The field office is not far. Let’s get you inside and see what you look like.”

  José’s truck is idling, the heater running. A shivering, shaking Brewster sighs deeply as he slumps into the enveloping warmth. José helps him with his seat belt, steadies him and closes the door.

  “Don’t wanna be a bother,” Brewster mumbles. “Car’s down there somewhere. I’ll just head …”

  “I like my idea better,” José says. “We’ll brush you off, clean you up a bit, and go for coffee. I’ve got all the time in the world.” His chatter keeps Brewster from nodding off during the short two-kilometre ride to the field office. “Yeah, I hear you, about your wife,” he continues. “My wife, she died from cancer five years ago now. I miss her. I still look for her, thinking she’ll just turn up. We had the advantage of talking about my life without her before she went. Still a huge shock, though. Bit of a vacuum now. Kids have grown and gone on with their lives. Now it’s just me and the cat. Got too much baggage for anyone to be interested in me now.”

  In the cosiness of the portable field office, warm water takes the dried tears and mud from Brewster’s stubbly face. The mottled backing of the aging mirror admits a still-presentable face—no frostbite. He hears José on the phone. “Found a fella in the snow. Yeah, he needs some company for a bit, so we’ll go find a coffee. No, not much happening down my way. No cars and no people. Yep, been right round the park at this end, and all is as it should be.”

  The comforting buzz in the crowded coffee shop blankets the two men as they sit and relate their shared experiences. Brewster’s not saying much, but he warms to the questioning and idle chitchat of the park warden as he tucks into a bowl of chilli. José talks about the long years of treatment until his wife finally succumbed. “At first they only gave her a few months. We got three plus years, so that was something. Really tough for me to handle, though,” he says. “I quit work just to look after her. What made you plant a tree in the park?”

  “Melanie and I were working on a project for ourselves,” Brewster says. “We enjoyed the natural wilderness of this park looking for the wildflowers, especially the natives. It was something we did together. All wasted now. I’ve not been near my material in the year she’s been gone. Not worth it.” His eyes moisten. “Sorry,” he says, wiping his cheeks with the back of his hand. “Can’t seem to hold back.”

  “You were going to tell me about the tree,” José says.

  “Oh, yes. The tree. It seemed like a good idea, and then we found out we couldn’t identify the tree as a memorial with her name because it’s in the park. So we just looked around until we found that lodgepole. Nicely growing, and we decided that was hers. It kinda told us it needed an owner, so the kids and I sat there and quietly claimed it. It’s in a place where we’ll always be able to find it. It’s nice that it’s the Alberta provincial tree too, and will be there a long time, maybe even a hundred years.”

  “The kids and I thought about that too,” José says. “But we wanted a tree with Mizzy’s name to it and found another memorial garden in the city. So that’s where I go.”

  Calmly and quietly, the park warden gets Brewster to open up about himself—his interest in wildflowers and why they mean so much.

  “Melanie loved flowers, their colour and their beauty and what they mean to so many people,” Brewster says. “We used to come here to walk, and then she started to point the wildflowers out to me. She had a bit of a gift, I reckon; could see a flower where to me there was just grass or scrubby undergrowth. I got the idea to photograph them—macros—and use the pictures to decorate her flower shop. We own The Blue Aster up the street from the reservoir.”

  “I know that place,” José says. “You guys did the flowers for my wife’s funeral. Small world, isn’t it?”

  “I don’t know how she did it, and every time I asked, she’d just say to look for a change in the colour of the undergrowth,” Brewster says, his eyes closed while recalling so many wildflower expeditions and adventures. He sighs. “We became absorbed with the fascinating world of the colour and courage of wildflowers, masked and protected in the clutter on the forest floor.” So many and yet too few outings with his bride.

  For almost an hour, he talks about their visits, his photographs, and Melanie’s ability to see what most people miss. “There’s the obvious stuff like goldenrod and the berries, but it’s something else to uncover delicate wintergreens, coralroot and other orchids. She did that for me.”

  “You should consider keeping it going,” José says. “For her. I’m sure your wife would want that. Now that you’ve told me all about it, I’d like to chat with my colleagues about it. Sounds like something we could use in our educational programs.”

  “I’ve dozens and dozens of images in the computer. All wasted now. I really don’t know the names of the plants; that was her. I just like taking the pictures. Without names, the pictures are useless.”

  #

  A week later, Brewster looks out his kitchen window. He watches his neighbours, a husband and wife, head off to work. Warm water fills the sink as he loads in his breakfast dishes: one mug, one dish, one bowl, one knife, one spoon. He sighs. The surprise spring snowfall that had almost trapped him was a one-day wonder. There are signs of renewal, the miracle of the season. There’s even a slight green tinge to the grass, as well as transformation in the trees as leaf buds swell in the sunshine. A robin skips across the lawn, his red breast a delightful contrast. The rumpty look of the gardens, strewn with the leaves of last autumn, reflect his own barren, lonely soul.

  The phone rings, and he lets it go. Telemarketer probably, or a pollster. No message.

  Half an hour later, it rings again. Brewster stirs from his seat in the front window of his silent house. He listens as the voicemail clicks on.

  “Hey, Brewster, it’s José—the guy in the park. How’s it going? I have a meeting with park management tomorrow. They’re quite excited about what you’ve got. Call me.”

  He swivels his chair around and stares at the framed wildflower pictures hanging on the wall and self-standing on the bookcase. A house of flowers, and the best one has gone. Brewster throws his newspaper aside and thumbs through the contacts on his iPhone. He taps José’s number.

  “José? Brewster.”

  “Well, about time, my friend. Missed you. What have you been up to these days? I hope you’re not just sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself.”

  Surprised at José’s bluntness, Brewster stands and paces the room. As he listens, he pauses to close in and focus intently on each wildflower picture on display. He has the distinct feeling Melanie is listening in on the call.

  Chapter Two

  Brewster dodges direct answers to José’s cheerful questions by mumbling something about being out of town for a business meeting. He’s not sure why he reacts like the old Brewster, the devious alcoholic of more than 20 years ago.

  José pauses. “That’s right. We never did talk about your work. Funny thing: I thought you must have taken one of those early retirements.”

  “By trade I’m actually a sheet metal and plumbing journeyman, but it’s been a long time since I practiced,” Brewster says. “I built up a big business during the city boom years, sold out and bought an office and retail tower. Now my main business is leasing office and retail space.”

  “I can see that would keep you busy,” José says. “Now, what I called about is that my team got pretty excited when I told them about your wildflower photos and your wife’s information. They’d love to meet you. Major interest because the park does have a need. Do you have something to show the education group?”

  “Well, um, I haven’t done much since Melanie died,” Brewster says. Distracted, he looks out to the street and waves to an elderly couple on their morning walk. An activity Melanie and I will not get to do. “I hadn’t really thought about the education bit. Um, I do have a couple of printed
—oh, shoot, I just spilled my coffee. Ah, sorry for that José. I may still have a slideshow in my laptop.”

  “Why don’t you come to the park offices and show us what you’ve done, and what your plans could be for this flower season?”

  “Not sure I can do that. Y’see, it was really … well it was her work, her interest. I loved taking the photographs, but they were for her, just something we could do to be together.”

  “I understand, Brewster. It’s just that we’re currently fleshing out plans for this summer’s education program, and we have the idea your work could really kick-start that. From what you’ve told me, you have a good grasp on what can be found underfoot, so to speak, in this park.”

  “Yeah, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, José. Um, I’ll call you back in 30. Is that okay? Just want to check my computer.”

  “How about I put you on the agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting? Say, a 30-minute show and tell. Okay?” José says, doing his best not to sound anxious and pushy. “They’ll want to know about costs and that sort of thing. Call me back as soon as you can.”

  Brewster pours his third coffee for the morning. He watches the kids heading off to school. A yellow bus rounds the corner with a loud clatter and diesels off up the street. Since Melanie died, he hasn’t been near the photograph file in his computer. It feels like an intrusion into the world he had with Melanie. Now he wishes he’d never said anything. It was theirs. It was hers and not for a park officer to parade around. Maybe he’ll just say his hard drive crashed and all their work has been lost. But that would be a whopper that could leap up one day and bite him.

  Throw something, smash something. He’s frustrated. The living room phone rings as he searches around for something to lash out. He stares at the phone. What now?

  “Dad, you there? Pick up, pick up, pick up.”

  Brewster dives. “Hello, Hannah, hello.” He feels the heat of emotion behind his eyes. “How’s student life in colourful Nova Scotia?”

 
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