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Toronto, Moore Park, somewhere north of middle class and comfortable, a place where nothing ever happens, just before dinner time on a school night in mid-September, a week and a bit into a first term that looked like it had the potential to really suck. I was gazing into a mirror. Dylan Maples was staring back. He had black, disheveled hair that a comb would only enter at its peril, a white face so forgettable that God likely couldn't recognize it, and all sorts of other features that I would most definitely classify as faults.
I was sick of him.
"Who are you?"
He didn't answer me.
I swear his eye bags were getting darker every day. Eye bags at fifteen and three-quarters. Does that even make any sense?
I used to think that Dylan Maples was kind of a cool guy. Back in the day, he had a pretty wicked sense of humor, parental units who actually didn't tick him off, and four important friends; and of those friends, if I were to venture to say it out loud, he may have been the coolest. The others were no slouches either, at least in Dylan Maples's mind. We had had a lot of fun over the years.
That is all over now. In fact, one of us is completely over. Dead. Bought the farm. Met his maker. Gone for a long run off a short dock.
"Hey, wait a minute, that's not entirely true." Bomber was sitting on the edge of the bed. He looked exactly the way he used to when he was alive. I ignored him. He hates that.
Hark, a voice from below: John Maples, dear old Dad, down in the kitchen helping Laura Maples make a healthy meal, heavy on the vegetables. Ah, the parental units, individuals charged with trying to steer me in the right direction in what seems to me is a pretty confusing world right now. Every time I check out anything on social media — and I'll admit that I do that a bit — everyone seems to have such strong opinions and it feels like they are constantly broadcasting them. Even kids my age appear to have really developed social and even political positions. I always wonder what I should say, or if I should say anything. I want to be a good person. I don't want anybody to think I'm a jerk, but it is hard to keep up sometimes. I worry that my opinions aren't strong enough, or at least the opinions of Dylan Maples — the guy who represents me in life — aren't. In fact, he doesn't seem to have powerful views about anything. However, I do have a vast array of sarcastic comments I can unleash at a second's notice.
"Coming!" I shouted back.
That is a key word for kids my age. Very useful. It means I will be there when I feel like it, even when Mom and Pops are working their butts off to prepare food for us, food to give us life that their hard-earned coinage purchased. Most parents will tell you how much they do for their kids, the second you ask them. Maybe that's a little too cynical. Mom and Dad do a lot for me, a whole lot, though that sort of thing is hard to admit sometimes. Mostly, I would rather just be a kid, at least a little rebellious, and keep the gratitude hidden. "I'LL BE THERE WHEN I FEEL LIKE IT!" That's what I actually should have yelled. I don't have the stones to do that, though. Dylan Maples doesn't, and I'm stuck being him.
There are three of them I think about. To be honest, I think about them a lot. And two of them are actually real. Maybe I reflect on them too much. I don't know. I don't mean anything by it, but nevertheless, I do it.
Dylan Maples gave me a bit of a smirk in the mirror. Stop that. Smart aleck. Appear calm and collected, that's a better look.
"There's only one of you, dude," said Bomber with a sigh.
I ignored him again and examined myself a little closer, and as I did, I realized that some girls might consider me somewhat handsome, if they looked beyond the pimples, the disheveled hair, and the pasty skin. Handsome: that's not the word they would use, if they were to consider me okay. They'd say "cute." But quite a few girls these days say that looks don't matter anyway. So, why do they talk about "cute guys" then?
I don't know. They're hard to understand.
Maybe they are talking about deeper things; things beyond looks. Is that really the way girls think? Or is that just a social position? Do I have those deeper things, the things they like?
"Dylan!" Dad for a third time, this time a little louder.
It seems to me that the reason I think about these three girls so much — the two real ones and the imaginary one — is that they are far away. I don't have to actually see them in person. That would be difficult. I can't think of a single girl in my school who I would want to take me seriously. That would be perilous. But the far-away girls, they're cool.
"Dylan, your meal will be cold if you don't come now!"
The first girl I think about lives in northern Ontario, in one of what they call the "Tri-Towns" up there. Cobalt. No one has ever heard of it. I hadn't, until I went up there with lawyer-dad so he could try to solve a problem that turned into a sort of mystery that I got involved in. You wouldn't think there would be mysteries or excitement of any sort in Cobalt, but there most definitely are.
Actually, you wouldn't think there's much mystery or excitement in Canada, period. It's got that sort of vanilla reputation. But there is. Canada is weird. Trust me. It pretends it isn't, but underneath, this country is bat-crap crazy. It's like an iceberg, with a cool surface and all sorts of invisible things going on underneath.
Wynona Dixon. That's her name. I know, it sounds like a fictional name. She is kind of fictional in my mind too, kind of perfect. Wyn Dixon, with long, wavy blonde hair and the heart of a lioness, both as a hockey player — and I should know; I went up against her, back when I played hockey — and off the ice. It's been a few years since I saw her, but I remember her as if it were yesterday, walking along those frozen Cobalt streets in her bright-red coat, her face glowing in the cold, looking as if she would like to hold my hand, full of spirit. A spirit I wish I had now. We keep in touch, text all the time. She sends me pictures every now and then. She looks really good. Grown up. I think I might suck out if I had to talk to her in person, though.
"That's stupid, Dylan," said Bomber.
Then there's Dorothy Osborne. Sounds fictional too. Very different from Wyn, but kind of the same too. Reddish-brown hair, she wears kind of old-fashioned movie-costume things, not afraid of looking different, even puts her hair in pigtails sometimes. She lives in Drumheller, Alberta. That's where I met her, when me and my guys got lost with her in Dinosaur Provincial Park and nearly got preyed upon by a weirdo criminal called The Reptile. She wishes she didn't live in Drumheller, thinks it's Nowheresville, but I thought it was pretty cool. I text her all the time, too.
Finally, there's Alice. Alice in Wonderland. She doesn't really exist. I dreamt her up right after I met Dorothy, when I went to British Columbia, wonderland, with Mom and Dad to recover from what happened in Alberta. She had a thing for wild makeup, a really forthright way about her that hid some insecurities, and a tattoo of a unicorn on her hip and a ring in her belly button. Uh, saw them when she we were at the beach — or in my dream of her. I dreamed up a whole adventure in Sasquatch Provincial Park out there in BC, with Alice as my leading lady. There really is a place called that, in weird Canada. I was running around with her chasing after a sasquatch ... in my dream. Then I went there, and it was unbelievable, actually like something from a dream.
"I like weird," I imagined Alice said to me once, peering right into my eyes. That made me feel good.
"Dylan!" yelled Mom.
When Mom starts yelling then I'm really in trouble. She runs a private school here in Toronto, operates a tight ship. She can be tough and makes fun of me quite a bit, but she likes to hug a lot too, kind of annoying. At least that's the position I take publicly.
"Dylan, you should go," said Bomber. "You spend too much time in your room now, anyway. You don't talk to anyone much either. When was the last time you hung out with Rhett or Jason or Terry?"
"Quiet, Bomb," I whispered, "you don't understand."
"I understand that when they text you now, you don't even answer."
"I'm putting your food away in ten seconds!" shouted Mom.
So, these three girls. When I text them, they text back, or at least Wyn and Dorothy do. They are definitely supportive. They both even told me that they loved me when I told them about Bomb dying. Down at the end of each of their messages, they wrote: "Love you. Wyn" and "Love from me, D." I remember exactly how they both put it. Alice's was the best, but I don't like to repeat what she said ... of course, she didn't actually say it because she doesn't exist. I made up a number for her and text it every now and then, but don't actually send it ... I would be an even bigger twit than I am if I did that. She has said the most amazing things to me. Really gets you in the old ticker.
I rolled out of the room and took the stairs three at a time, turned the corner, and got into the kitchen in about three seconds from bedroom departure, left Bomb in my dust. Likely a new world record. The room was empty. What? Had they abandoned me? Probably a good move on their part.
"Out here, honey," said Mom. They were sitting at the table in the dining room.
I wish she wouldn't call me that, and why were they eating out there? This didn't bode well. We only eat out there when we have guests, when Mom cleans the house for about five hours ahead of time and Dad gets out the good wine, or on special family occasions.
"Why are we out here?"
John Maples was at the head of the table, of course. Mom lets him do that. She was down at the same end as him to his right and my meal, all hot and steaming, not cold in the least, was close to them, right across from her. It was a lovely little Maples family gathering.
"No reason," said Mom, smiling.
That was even worse. When she says a line like that, I know something is up. Dad gave me a smile. Oh, God. This was suspiciously like the time they told me we were going to Cobalt.
"Have a seat, champ."
He still calls me that. Can't believe it. Do I really have to tell him not to do it?
"Love you," said Mom.
All right, they must be sending me to Siberia.
"Eat up," said Dad, "your mom and I spent a long time on this meal."
She smirked, which meant that she had done most of the work and he was taking credit for a chunk of it. I can't complain about their relationship though, my parents really love each other. I know that sounds strange. I know maybe a half-dozen kids in my entire class who have parents who are still together, and most of them, from the way they look at each other when they pick those kids up from school, aren't long for this world as teams. My Mom and Dad hug each other a lot, and kiss too, right in front of me. I try not to look. Not that they don't argue. They do, and she always wins. He's a lawyer, and she smokes him just about every time. Even when he's trying his best to be all open-minded and liberal, which he actually is, but sometimes he really puts on a pro-feminist sort of thing to score points. Not that he's not pro-feminist. He is.
"I want you to know," he has told me about a million times when we've been alone, starting when I was about twelve, "that one of the most important things in life is how you treat women ... or ... girls."
Usually, we were watching a hockey game, Mom was out doing something, Dad had made pizza, and we were "batching it." His words.
"You never ever, ever, ever, ever, under any circumstances, hit a woman — a girl — do you understand?"
"Yeah, sure Dad, of course. Why would I do that? That would be gross. And stupid."
"Look at me."
I looked at him.
"It doesn't matter what they've done or how upset they might make you. You respect women — uh girls — you treat them. ..."
I forget the rest, even though he's said it to me about a billion times. But he's right. I think that how you treat the opposite sex says something about who you are ... not that I know who the heck I am. I wish I had someone like Wyn or D or Alice — especially Alice — to treat the right way. Perhaps that's a little needy at fifteen. And at ... almost sixteen?
I got through that dining-room meal in about, oh, I'd say two to three minutes. One hundred and twenty seconds, maybe one-forty and it was gone, down the hatch. It had been a Laura Maples specialty with a little meat on its bones: roast chicken, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a little ice cream for dessert.
There were no disturbances, either. Bomber hadn't followed me downstairs and wasn't sitting there at the far end of the table like he's done a few times, actually daring to appear in public, his ghostliness eyeballing me and wondering when we were going out to play street hockey. He has kind of replaced Grandpa in the ghost department. My awesome grandfather, who loved hockey just like me, died a few years ago. I still see him in my dreams sometimes. I sort of feel the presence of people from my past. Bizarre, I know. But neither Bomber nor Grandpa made a peep during this meal and I was grateful for that. I jumped to my feet: back up to the room and my phone.
"Uh, wait a minute, champ."
Uh-oh. There is something up. This meal was a bribe.
"We need to talk with you."
"Uh, can it wait, Mom?"
She usually isn't quite that decisive with me about things. She usually gives what I might term lots of leeway in her comments to and about me, giving me "my space," as she says. My Mom and Dad are weird (though I suppose that goes without saying about parents). They are children of the sixties ... even though they weren't even born back then, in fact, they were about minus fifteen or twenty, but they like all the "groovy" bands from those days, and kind of have a "love generation" attitude. Both Mom and Dad are really successful, smart at their jobs, and efficient, but they believe in hope and peace and all that crap. I shouldn't say that. They are obviously right for the most part ... but still, it's kind of weird.
"We, uh, have some concerns about you," said Mom.
Oh, man, here we go. I have really changed, that's what they are going to say; I have become much quieter, my marks aren't as good, I'm still grieving Bomb, most kids don't lose close friends in head-on collisions at my age, and I maybe should have gone to the other high school, the Catholic one where all my friends went, Rhett Norton, Jason Li, and Terry Singh, the buds, old hockey teammates. And by the way, Dylan, why did you give up hockey? It isn't even late September yet, you could still sign up. And why do you spend all your time on your phone and in your room now?
Of course, I don't spend ALL my time there — or on my phone — just some of it. I suppose I could use my phone to call my friends sometimes. I'm fine, though. But Mom and Dad tell me this stuff constantly. It never goes anywhere. They don't understand.
They have lots of views about so-called millennials too, all people their age do. I'm not even sure I qualify as a millennial, but they think I do and man do they get lots of mileage out of it. Our music sucks, we are self-centered, so "presentist" (whatever that means), we're always on social media, we are spoiled, blah, blah, blah. They don't really exactly say that, my mom and dad aren't like that, but it's what they mean, behind their words. It is like a subtle war on us. Judge John Maples and his wife Judge Laura, hitting you hard but pretending to be friendly ... and fair, of course.
I waited until they'd gotten it all out. That's all you have to do, just allow them to let off a little steam, and then say you kind of get it, or act mad at them (they don't like that; worries them) and then just go on with your life.
This time, though, they threw a curveball.
"We are planning a family trip," said Dad.
"A family trip," said Mom. "A family is a group of related people. And a trip is a journey across a section of the earth or a body of water."
We hadn't done one of those for a long while. We used to do them all the time. The first one was to Newfoundland to an amazing place that really fit my imagination: a deserted town on an island called Ireland's Eye. That may have been where my dead-people thing really ramped up because I actually saw someone like that there, I think. The trip to northern Ontario where I met Wyn and the one to Alberta where I got to know Dorothy were "family" things too, and the BC trip where I met — or made up — You Know Who.
"Well, good luck with that," I said, with a smile. "When are you going? Can I stay home alone?"
"We," said Mom.
"We," said Dad. These two like to work as a team on you. "WE are going together, you and Mom and me. Next week. Heading out on Saturday, to be exact."
Today was Thursday, just a day away from Friday. I was counting the now just under twenty-four hours until I could settle into a nice weekend. I was only a week and a half into grade ten. It was not going well. Lousy, really. I wasn't optimistic about making new friends this year. Not that I had any of real value last year either. And the girls, man they looked awesome. They seemed more awesome every year, which was both a good and a bad thing. But how were WE going on this family trip, if I had to be in school?
"We are pulling you out of classes for the week, maybe ten days. We think it will do you good."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Phantom of Fire"
Copyright © 2019 Shane Peacock.
Excerpted by permission of Nimbus Publishing Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Not Again, 1,
2 Calm Before the Storm, 17,
3 The Bill and Bonnie Show, 32,
4 Antonine, 43,
5 The Legend, 54,
6 Acadia, 64,
7 Nighttime Escape, 77,
8 The Burning Ghost Ship, 86,
9 The Truth Outs, Sort of, 102,
10 Please Don't Go, 109,
11 A Gift, 121,
12 Investigation, 131,
13 A Memory, 148,
14 Treasure, 167,
15 Expert Analysis, 176,
16 The Big House on the Beach, 195,
17 Island Visit, 209,
18 Man of the People, 227,
19 The Invisible, 242,