Thursday, October 16, 2014

There Be Circles by Margaret Ullrich

I recently posted a story about Paul meeting the performer Geoffrey Holder.  
I had written it for when I was a co-host on ‘2000 & Counting’. 

Last week I got an email asking if I’d post the Halloween story I had also read on air in 2002.  
I had also read it on a few other pre-Halloween shows.
It had become one of our show's traditions.

For you, E., here's the story.  
Thank you for remembering.  

And Happy Halloween, everyone!!

     I don't know if you've ever noticed but there are an awful lot of cul-de-sacs in this city.  I've never understood why they're so popular, especially after a Winnipeg snow storm.  After the city plows all the snow into a small mountain on one curb and blocks the view, you have to take your life into your hands to drive out. 

     When we first moved to our present home neighbours told me about a cul-de-sac a few blocks north of us.  When kids have to sell candy in September they avoid going there.  It's not far but I don't walk our dogs near it.  Well, our neighbours had said to avoid it.  The people there have a reputation for being 'different'.  Nothing dangerous.  No, nothing like that.  It's just that they have a bit of history.   

     I've heard stories, but I'm sure there's no truth to them.  I mean, things like that don't happen.  It is the twenty-first century, right?  Still… better safe than sorry.  

     The interesting thing is that the families in this cul-de-sac are all descendants from some of the Selkirk settlers.  Imagine that.  A few families that have managed to stay near each other and to intermarry for almost two hundred years.  

     The Selkirk settlers faced hard times when they arrived in Winnipeg in 1815.  Cold weather and lack of food and housing to name just a few.  The Selkirk settlers were strong and brave and never complained about these physical hardships.  Some people find comfort in religion at times like that. 

      There again the Selkirk settlers, mostly Presbyterians, had a problem.  They had to wait until 1851 for a minister to be sent over from Europe.  Imagine that - 36 years without an ordained minister.  Two generations with no one to properly officiate at weddings, christenings or funerals.  In the spiritual void they had to take care of themselves.  If I were in their place, I don't know what I'd have done.  Do you?  Some continued as best they could with Bible readings and trying to observe the Christian calendar. 

      But, some of the settlers went further back, as if some primitive force was just waiting for them to need more than Bible stories.  Well, that's what some people say two or three of the settler families did.  That that's what their descendants were still doing.  It actually looks cheerful to drive by and see neighbours gather around and celebrate things like solstices and equinoxes.  That's all it is, right?  

      One story - oh, it couldn't be more than a local urban legend - is that Sally, a young woman new to the north end, met Bethany from the cul-de-sac, when they were both out walking their dogs.  The dogs, both healthy puppies, took to each other and started playing together.  Well, you know how it is.  The pups were on their leashes so while the dogs played, the women chatted.  They were both about the same age, so they had a few things in common.  They'd walk and chat about work, husbands, kids, the usual stuff.  

     Well, as sometimes happens, the economy took a downturn and Sally's husband lost his job.  Bethany offered Sally the usual tea and sympathy and said she'd pray for them.  Sally didn't think the prayers would make much difference but she thanked Bethany and didn't give it another thought.  Within a few days Sally's husband got a job at twice his former pay.  Well, Sally was thrilled and phoned Bethany to tell her the good news.  

    Now, here's where the story gets a bit hazy.  It seems Bethany told Sally that she had to do certain things.  Sally was a Catholic and she was used to things like saying a rosary or publishing a notice of thanksgiving to St. Jude.  But, what Bethany said struck Sally as being, well, a little odd.  Sally said sure, no problem, she'd do them.  But she didn't.  Sally couldn't take what Bethany said - things like retribution - seriously.

     A month went by.  Sally felt a little funny when she bumped into Bethany.  She had the oddest feeling that Bethany knew she hadn't done any of those things.  Well, Sally couldn't really trust her feelings.  She'd just found out she was pregnant and you know what that can do to a woman's perceptions. 

     Then things started going wrong.  First Sally's freezer went off.  It was the strangest thing.  Sally opened the lid and the stench nearly knocked her out.  All the meat had gone bad.  Yet the other food was fine and the freezer  was cold.  None of the clocks were flashing 12, so Sally knew it wasn't a blackout.  The repairman said there was nothing wrong.  Sally figured it was just one of those things and bought fresh meat.

     A few days later, Sally's husband was downsized out his job.  Well, the economy was a roller coaster.  Then Sally's puppy was found dead under a bush.  The vet couldn't explain how a healthy puppy could die like that.  No poison, it hadn't been sick, no explanation.  Then Sally miscarried.  The doctor reassured her.  It happens all the time, probably for the best, Sally was still young, nothing's wrong, probably stress.

     Sally was distracted and almost didn't recognize Bethany when she bumped into her on the way to the market.  Sally told her about how things had taken a turn for the worst.  

     Bethany listened without comment.  After a long pause, Bethany gave Sally a cold stare and said, "What did you expect?  You didn't do as you were told."  And with that Bethany just walked away.  

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