Thursday, February 22, 2007

Episode 06: Martha Stuart and Mr. Miyagi

What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus trades what he believes to be the final Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans' from a homeless man. After dumping the coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. While Andrew is checking the neighboring copy shop and restuarant, his new employee, Lara, discovers three strange women in the shop's basement...

"No damage?" Lara asked, incredulous.

"None," Andrew replied. "They were a bit weirded out that I came in all wound up...I told them I had some flooding in the basement and wanted to make sure it was confined over here." He was standing on the ladder, which was leaning against the wall adjacent to the trendy restaurant. He was peering into one of the fissures the tree had ripped in the wall. "This limb is too large at this point to taper off before it gets through the wall,"
he said under his breath. "It doesn't make a bit of sense."

"You have a giant tree in your coffee shop," Lara reminded him. "I think we're well past sensible." She looked intently at the wall, her eyes scanning back and forth. "And speaking of sensible," she said, "What possessed you to think it would be a good idea to cover the original brick with wood panelling?"

"I didn't do that," Andrew replied. "I had no idea the brick was underneath."

"Yeah, but it looks like shit," Lara said. "You never thought to remove it?"

"I guess I was too busy serving coffee and worrying about paying the bills," Andrew replied, turning away from his investigation.

"Well, I guess you have a reason to take it down then," Lara said cheerfully. "I've always wanted to do some interior decoration...a friend of mine said I have a real knack for it."

"Let me guess, you'd paint everything flat black and put a bloody dripping pentagram on the floor?" Andrew tried turning on the taps for the sink to wash his hands, but no water came out. He swatted at the taps in frustration.

"Hardy har har," Lara said, cocking her head to the side. "Just because I dress in black doesn't mean I'm all into death and stuff...and being Wiccan isn't like being a Satanist or something."

"Whatever," Andrew said. "Look, if you want to rip all the wood off the walls and redecorate, knock yourself out. You've got roughly 36 hours to do it."

"Gotta get the store up and running again. I get it."

"No, in 36 hours the bank will phone the university and inform them that I haven't paid my rent," Andrew said.

"What happened?"

"I was short about...oh, the whole amount," Andrew replied.

"But you must have made some money this month!"

"Yeah, I paid the rent at my apartment and..." Andrew trailed off, and his eyes went wide. "Oh shit." He ran across the shop and ducked behind the counter. He was looking at the floor, pacing about frantically.

"What are you looking for?" Lara asked, crossing over to the counter. "What's wrong?"

Andrew was murmuring chantlike: "The bonsai tree...this is the bonsai tree..."

Lara looked up at the huge canopy of leaves and branches. "It's a little big for a bonsai tree, isn't it? I mean, you'd really have to seriously Miyagi on this thing to get it small enough to..."

"It was right here!" Andrew shouted, pointing at the tree's trunk.

"Actually, it still is," Lara said, furrowing her brow in concern. It looked as though Andrew had finally cracked under all the pressure.

He looked up at her, as if realizing she was watching him for the first time. He leaned across the counter. "There was a bonsai tree from my grandfather sitting in a little ceramic pot where that tree is now," he said, carefully enunciating every point of diction. "I poured the coffee I made with the magic beans out in the pot," he spread his arms theatrically "and voila!"

"Magic beans?" Lara asked.

"Magic coffee beans," Andrew said, nodding as if this explained everything.

"And where did these magic coffee beans come from?" Lara asked.

"The homeless man I gave the night deposit to," Andrew replied.

"Well of course," Lara said. "Is that why you're currently short the rent?"

"No," Andrew replied, his neck craned to take in the tree's vast canopy. "I wouldn't have made rent anyhow. That's why I gave the money away. Figured the guy could use it more than the University."

"And he gave you magic coffee beans in return?" Lara asked.

"Yup," Andrew said, kneeling down to sift amongst the broken tile. "And I made coffee with it, but only took one sip...and then threw the rest out...into the pot--" he stood up, a piece of terracotta ceramic held between thumb and forefinger, "--that the bonsai tree was in."

"So you're saying you think this," Lara indicated the immensity of the tree, "is the bonsai tree?"

"Yeah," Andrew said absently.

He dropped the pottery back onto the floor, bringing his attention abruptly back to Lara. "Doesn't matter though, does it? He didn't give me enough to market it as the next big thing in fertilizer, so I'm still screwed...the only difference is, in 36 hours the University will have one hell of a mess to clean up. I guess that's not bad for an inadvertent revenge, right?"

Lara didn't reply. Instead, she walked over to the tree and put her hand on its trunk. She could feel it emenating a sort of energy, a was definitely very much alive. Lara knew she should be far more panicked by such an imposing presence, but instead, she derived a deep sense of peace...belonging...and solidity. Where her world had been shifting on its axis only days prior, it was now firmly set in place. And it all revolved around this tree.

She's one of us, isn't she? Ima had said...

"You can't just give up like this," Lara said. "We have to do something."

"What are we going to do?" Andrew asked, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "Even if I could come up with the money for the rent, we'd still have to repair all the damage...replace the busted machines...we'd be closed the whole's impossible."

He leaned his elbows on the counter and buried his face in the V of his arms, his fingers gripping his hair in tight fistfuls.

Lara turned away from Andrew and looked up at the tree.

"We could use some help here," she whispered.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Episode 05: Girl Talk

What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus trades what he believes to be the final Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans' from a homeless man. After dumping the coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree, Andrew is knocked unconscious--he awakens to find a massive ash tree has mysteriously grown overnight inside the shop. Joined by his new employee Lara, Andrew begins to investigate the wondrous occurrence...

"I should go next door and see what sort of damage they've incurred," Andrew said. Once he'd finally come down off the ladder, he'd paced back and forth, assessing the extent of the tree's encroachment as a permanent part of the architecture of the building. He'd held his face with one hand, rubbing at his chin and jaw worriedly. Lara watched him, waiting.

The coffee shop was located on the corner of an intersection, between one of those trendy restaurants who required their male servers to wear what was essentially formal wear without the jacket and their female servers to wear as little as possible, and one of the campus copy shops. The entry to the shop was situated at the building's horizontal apex; the tree had grown up directly opposite the entry, the main body of its trunk nestled into the shop's far corner as though it had been the most comfortable spot to grow.

Lara shook her head. She couldn't believe she could be so removed from the apparent reality of the situation--a massive tree had grown up inside a coffee shop in...? She didn't actually know how long it had taken to grow, now that she thought about it. It had only been a few days since her interview, and at the time, there had been no sign of plant growth in that corner of the shop.

She could remember that there had been a few very expensive coffee machines there though. Pieces of shiny metal strewn about the shop were their only testament their specialty coffee legacy. One half of the espresso machine was precariously perched in one of the tree's sturdy limbs, which spread out from the trunk to create a verdant canopy over the ruin of the shop. The height of the tree was uncertain, as the leaves and branches obscured the roof from view...but it was a safe bet the tree went all the way up.

And given the damage it had done to the walls and floor, it might have even gone all the way through, although with the temperature being really damn cold, if the tree had punched through the roof, you'd think they'd be feeling a breeze.

It had however, punched through the wall in spots. At least, it had cracked the wood panelling which covered the brick wall behind. It was difficult to say beyond that how far through the branches had penetrated. The floor's marble tile was cracked and in places, shattered where the tree's roots had burrowed downward, seeking...what? Iron pipes to suck the water out of? This was all too mad now that she had time to really take in the tableau before her.

Andrew's voice broke through her reverie. "And I need to check the basement...see if those roots have dug through the pipes...could be flooding..." He was thinking out loud, and now his pacing assumed a sort of indecisive dance; at one moment he was heading for the front door, the next he was going to the back room to the stairs which lead to the basement, the furnace and water pipes.

"I could always check the basement," Lara offered. "I don't know the people next door and they might well...find me a little alarming."

Andrew looked at her. She'd tried hard to dress for success, but when most of your wardrobe is built on a theme of either black, blood red, the Nightmare Before Christmas and goth metal, it's difficult to look professional. She'd tied her hair back with a scarf covered with little Jack Skellington faces, which aside from Jack's pale grinning skull was as black as her hair. Coupled with the pentagram earrings, nose and lip ring, eyes rimmed with heavy mascara and melanin the color of porcelain, she was a better candidate for Most Likely To Be Mistaken For A Corpse than the person you send to check if your commercial property neighbors have had a tree branch smash their bar to smithereens. And Lara knew it.

"Yeah," Andrew said. "You're probably right. Besides...I'm the manager. And owner. Shit."

He did another indecisive pacing dance, finally decided to run into the backroom and grab his jacket, then stormed out the front door, locking it behind him and then heading to the trendy restaurant first. Lara watched him walk out of sight through the tinted glass, then walked over to the shop's glass storefront and closed all the blinds. No sense in someone peeking in and seeing what was going on until they knew what was going on.

What the hell is going on?

Lara stood for a moment, then headed to the back room. The tree had made of mess of this as well--a portion of its trunk had forced the drywall to bend and then break, so that in spots one could see out into the shop. Its branches had ripped gaping holes in the bags of coffee beans and other dry goods. Sugar, coffee beans and grounds all formed a brown and white chiarascuro pattern across the floor. Lara went to the landing to the basement and flicked the light switch for the stairs. Nothing happened.

Not a good sign.

A quick search produced a mag light from one of the storage shelves. She turned it on and went down the stairs.

The flashlight's beam drifted over the odds and ends that had found their way down her through all the years of tenant's who had left junk behind when they vacated. The ones closest to the stairs were coffee related...boxes which had once held disposable cups, coffee beans, and the machines themselves. Further in, there were some pot lights--perhaps it had been a club or pub before? The furnace was running, she could hear it making its machine white noise. Lara ran the beam over it, but saw no trace of the tree or damage.

Then the beam played over the wall beneath the tree and Lara gasped. The roots of the tree had reached all the way to the bottom of the basement and actually had dug into the pipes.

But there was no water spilling out.

"Maybe the pipes are frozen," she said to herself.

"Not a chance sweetheart," a female voice said. "It's hot as hell down here with that furnace. The Tree is drinking."

Lara jerked the flashlight in the direction of the voice and caught a glimpse of an aged hand shielding a face from the glare.

"Not in the eyes!" the woman complained. It was a friendly gripe though. Lara lowered the beam so that the light fell indirectly across the woman's head and shoulders. She lowered her left arm and Lara saw a wizened face, smoke curling up in front of it. A cigarette was burning in the old woman's right hand. She raised it to her lips and took a long, langourous drag. Lara could hear the tobacco crackle as it burned.

"You're not allowed to smoke in here," she said. "It's a public building."

"Stupid ass law," the old woman said. "But if you feel it's your civic duty to report me, then go ahead and call the cops. I doubt they'll be as interested in my cigarette as they will be in the Tree."

"Don't be testy with her Terry," another female voice said, "after all, she's one of us, isn't she?"

"Not yet she isn't," Terry replied. Lara placed her at older than 60, though it was hard to tell in the dark. Her eyes had adjusted to the low light and she could make out two other figures on either side of Terry. The one who had just spoken, on Terry's left, was a heavyset middle aged woman, with jovial asian features. The remaining figure was difficult to make out; from the little Lara could see, it was apparent that she was dark skinned.

"We're forgetting our manners," the asian woman said. "I am called Ima, and you have already met Terry...the silent one is known as Hatima."

"And down here in the basement?" Lara asked.

"We've recently relocated," Terry replied. "We go where the Tree goes."

Lara could literally hear the capital T in front of Tree, the way Terry said it. "You keep mentioning the Tree like this is the only one."

"That's because it is," Ima said.

"So this isn't just some freak ecological occurrence," Lara said, trying to gain clarity.

"It's as natural as any other tree growing," Ima replied. "But this one doesn't grow as often."

"And you magically appear with it?" Lara asked sarcastically.

"That's right," Ima said.

Lara was silent for a moment. "So Andrew doesn't know you're down here..."

"And that's how it should remain," Terry said in a tone that left no room for discussion. "The work we do down here is women's work." She caught a wrinkle in Lara's expression. "I know, it's not a very modern thing to say, but what we do here isn't very modern."

"And what is it you do?" Lara asked.

"What we do," Terry said, indicating all four of them with a sweep of her hand, "Is tend to the roots...and the Well."

"The Well?" Lara looked dubiously at the plumbing.

"The water at the base of the tree is the Well. Don't let appearances fool you Lara, you of all people should know that."

I never told them my name...

"Lara?" Andrew's voice called from the top of the stairs. "Are you still down there?"

Terry placed a finger over her lips and shook her head.

"Yes, I am, and I'll be right up!" Lara called.

"Are the pipes all right?" Andrew asked.

Terry and Ima gave Lara a meaningful nod.

"Everything's perfect down here!" Lara said, starting towards the stairs.

"Come back and see us soon," Terry whispered from the darkness as Lara stepped into the light streaming down from the storage room.

She nodded and said, "I will."

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Episode 04: A Little About Lara

What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus trades what he believes to be the final Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans' from a homeless man. After dumping the coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree, Andrew is knocked unconscious--he awakens to find a massive ash tree has mysteriously grown overnight inside the shop. Joined by his new employee Lara, Andrew begins to investigate the wondrous occurrence...

At this point it might begin to seem as though I'm merely suspending action to maintain a false series of cliffhangers in order to maintain return visits to "see what happens next." This is not entirely false, but it has nothing to do with why I'm suspending the action yet again. This time, I'm suspending the action to talk about another suspension, that of disbelief.
You see, once the reader knows what Andrew does, they’ll begin to wonder how it was that Lara stayed so calm. To understand that, you need to know a little about Lara.

Firstly, she is not a native of the prairies. She’s from the coast. Now before anyone jumps to conclusions about the level of alteration in her state of consciousness, it must be noted that not everyone from British Columbia smokes weed (had she been from the interior of B.C. the odds of Lara being a pothead would have gone up exponentially). So it wasn’t that she was stoned. In fact, on that particular Saturday morning, Lara was 2 years, 3 weeks, and 2 days stone cold sober.

The reason I mention her coastal roots concerns the reason she moved to Alberta.

When an alcoholic decides to stop drinking, it’s often helpful to get a new community to immerse oneself in, since the community you embraced up until that point is not likely to be sympathetic to your choice to dry out and stay away from the one thing you all crave nearly as much as air.

So Lara went tree planting. Now, I know what you’re thinking; tree planters drink like fish. This is again, a stereotype. They are more likely to smoke dope, because it’s easier to carry a baggie out into the middle of nowhere than it is to haul a case of beer. And Lara knew the crew she was joining was alcohol free, because she’d met the crew leader at AA. His name was Josh, and he was hot.

Good sex can be a great placebo for one’s addiction. However, like most placebos, if the substance one replaces the formerly addictive and harmful substance with is equally harmful and addictive, then it completely defeats the purpose. Unlike alchohol though, a bad relationship can take a hell of a lot more time to exact it’s toll from you.

When the tree planting season ended, Josh moved to Alberta to drive truck for an oil company, since there was a lot of money in it. Unlike some tree planters, Josh had no ecological concerns when it came to the work he was doing. Repairing the environment for one season, raping it the next; Josh was a true capitalist mercenary.

But Lara didn’t mind. Because he was hot.

And so Lara moved to Alberta. She moved to a small town with a difficult name which lent itself easily to puerile jokes, where she and Josh made her homebase. Not that he was home much.

Going from Vancouver to rural Alberta was a rather large shock for Lara, as well as the town. The Lutheran minister who came by had stared at her for almost a minute without saying anything after Lara informed him that she wouldn’t be attending Sunday service because, while she respected Christ as part of her pantheon, she was more of a pantheist, and any opportunity she could have to worship nature she was going to take full advantage of.

Luckily most of the people in the town didn’t know what Lara meant when she said she was Wiccan, and since a lot of the local teenagers were expressing their adolescent angst by dressing in faux-emo (the kind that results from having to get your clothes at a SAAN or Work Wearhouse), no one minded Lara’s choice in noir-wear. Besides, she made a hell of an apple pie for the community bakesale.

Just when she was settling in to becoming the little Goth on the prairie, the world caved in. In an impulsive moment of romantic inspiration, Lara decided to catch a ride with one of the rig workers headed up to Fort McMurray, which was where Josh was working a three week stretch. She called his boss and got the hotel and room he was staying at.

She’d stopped in the lobby’s bathroom to touch up her makeup, make sure her hair looked fabulous, long dark locks falling past her shoulders; she adjusted the neckline of her shirt for maximum cleavage (now that she wasn’t in the cab of a pickup with a 50 year old rig pig) and went up to Josh’s room.

Getting the key to the room had been easy; she’d simply shared the details of her plan with the giddy and romance-starved girl at the front desk, who confided that she shouldn’t really give her a key…but…

She swiped the keycard. The light on the door flashed green. She opened the door.

For a moment, she’d assumed that the front desk girl had given her the key for the wrong room. She’d laughed with embarrassment and covered her mouth and then eyes, apologizing and turning to go…and then she did the double take.

There is little in the universe that can equal the shock of walking in on your boyfriend already engaged in the very thing you came to surprise him with. It completely inverts your world, turns everything upside down. You lose your center of gravity. Now, you’re not only thousands of miles from the place where you have roots, but you’re stuck in a city where you have nowhere to stay…a city known for easy access to drugs, alchohol…whatever.

Suddenly, you want a drink. Worse than you have in a long time. All because...Josh is hot. Too hot.

She nearly fell completely apart in that moment. Later, she had difficulty remembering how she got back down to the lobby. She knew she was crying, because she could hear someone sobbing…and she assumed it was her. The girl at the front desk turned out to be more than just a helpless romantic…she was also a bit of a Samaritan. Lara had crashed at her apartment that night.

When your life gets that messed up, finding a massive ash tree in your new place of work on a Saturday morning doesn’t really seem all that earth shattering. Even if said tree seems to have tore it’s way into the walls of the building, smashed the second-level balcony to kindling and completely obliterated over half of the coffee machines.

So when Andrew whispered ““This definitely trumps having the covers ripped off,” Lara’s cherry red lips curved ruefully into a smirk and said, “Not really, no.”

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Episode 03: Rockabye Andrew...

What has gone before: Andrew Weazle is the owner of a coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus. The shop is not doing well financially, and Andrew trades what he believes to be his final Friday night deposit for a homeless man's 'magic coffee beans'. Back at the shop, Andrew dumps coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree. Moments later, the earth shakes, and Andrew is knocked unconscious...


Someone was calling his name, from a far off place. It was warm where he was, and he sensed in that way a sleeper snuggled warmly beneath a warm duvet knows that the floor their bare feet will touch on the way to make a cup of hot coffee is sub zero that waking up would be a bad idea. There was something he’d prefer not to see. Better to keep his eyes closed.


The voice was closer now. It was a girl’s voice. Sort of familiar. The sense of disorientation as he emerged from the dream increased…it seemed like the girl’s voice was coming from beneath him. Which was strange, since he hadn’t kept a girl under his bed in years.


She was shouting now. That was never a good thing. When his mother shouted like that, it was only seconds until the covers were ripped off and all the cold air rushed in to banish the warm. If you had to sneak out of bed on a cold morning to pee, you could regain the warm spot when you got back, providing you were fast enough and you sort of oozed out from beneath the covers, leaving them relatively intact. When your mom tore the covers off, there was no going back to the warm spot…

“Andrew, if you don’t wake up right now…”

I’m going to rip the covers off, yeah mom I know. Only this wasn’t his mom’s voice. And now that he really considered it, there weren’t any covers on him to rip off. Or a bed for that matter. He opened one eye.

Dark. Mostly dark anyhow. He could discern some varying shades of…green? And maybe some brown. A moment of panic swept over him. Not only was he not sleeping in his bed, he wasn’t (near as he could tell) in his apartment. He was having a tough time remembering where he was, and how he had gotten there.

“Are you awake? You look like you might be awake…” said the female voice again.

Definitely beneath him.

He started to roll over. He never quite completed the roll, because his lizard hind brain sensed that completion of the roll might result in a fall, and rapidly sent a series of messages to his body to STOP MOVING. These messages were sent in the sort of way that, had they been delivered by Mob enforcers, would have resulted in broken kneecaps. Luckily Andrew’s body was averse to such pain, and froze.

Nearly simultaneous to not completing his roll, the female voice went up an octave and said “holyshitohmygoddon’tdothat” which trailed off.

Andrew's eyes popped wide open. He was looking into the face of Lara, the girl he’d hired on Wednesday. And from a vantage point suspended above her a good ten feet. The first thought which crossed his mind was that he was glad he slept on his stomach. The second was that he hoped he had not been drooling in his sleep.

“This might sound like a stupid question,” Andrew called out, “but what is my current predicament?”

Lara looked surprised by the question. “You don’t know where you are?”

His eyes focused on the fake hardwood linoleum Lara was standing on. “Well, I can see I’m in the shop…but beyond that…”

She was quiet for a moment. “I’m not sure how to word this. You are…in a tree.”

“A tree?” He moved fingers which had been, on threat of death from the lizard hind brain, up until that moment G.I. Joe Kung Fu Gripping the rough grooved texture of a tree limb’s bark.

“A very large tree.”

“How large?”

“Umm…well…it reaches the roof of the shop near as I can tell.”

“How high up would you say I am?”

“You remember where the balcony thingee used to be?”

USED TO BE??!!” His mind was reeling. He needed to calm down. Given the spot the balcony had been, he was about 15 feet in the air. Falling from this height onto the shop’s lino coated concrete floor would not be a good way to start the day. It would trump having the covers ripped off for sure.

“Do we have a ladder or anything?” Lara asked.

Given the fact that there had been no tree large enough for a grown man to sleep in when she’d left the shop following her interview on Wednesday, Andrew contemplated that she was handling this all rather well.

Works well under stressful conditions.

“Yeah…in the back room,” Andrew called.

“Okay, I’ll go grab it!” Lara yelled. “Just hang on a sec!”

She grinned (works really well under stressful conditions or is a raving lunatic) and ran out of Andrew’s view, which was obscured, Andrew was now realizing, by dense foliage. He only had a small window clear of leaves and branches by which to observe the floor of the shop. He inclined his head from side to side; thick, leafy boughs on either side.

He heard a crash and Lara swearing. “Sorry, there’s just some…uh…debris in the way of the door to back room!”

Debris? What the hell had happened?

He could remember giving Lump the money, phoning the AMA roadside assistance, making the Poop coffee…and then getting ready to go put the keys in his car…

Another crash, this one with the timbre an aluminum extension ladder makes when one very short person tries to manage moving it.

More swearing.

Girl talks like a trucker.

The silver stilts of the extension ladder came into view beneath him. Then, a grunt from Lara as she swung it upward. The ladder crashed up through the leaves, nearly knocking Andrew off his branch.

“Watch out!” he called.

“FIVE FOOT FOUR!” Lara shouted. She had started this height disclaimer with an adjective that also started with f. “NOT EXACTLY BUILT FOR THIS SORT OF WORK!”

“Sorry!” Andrew called. He figured this was not the best time to ask if she was going to talk that way around customers. He eased himself onto the ladder and began climbing down.

He descended through the dark green canopy, seeing the branch he’d been sleeping on from beneath it.

All night? How did I not fall off that thing?

And then he was out of the foliage and into the shop, the pale sunlight of a winter morning streaming in through the shop’s front windows.

“This definitely trumps having the covers ripped off,” Andrew whispered.