My novels are available at Chapters stores, McNally Robinson Booksellers, and on Amazon.com
Below, you will find a small blurb about each one:
My first novel involves the legendary ‘withershins’ ritual where one runs around a church three times at midnight. The teenaged girl who tries it has the adventure of a lifetime – or is it just a dream? She thinks she is now in the mid-eighteen hundreds, forced to stay until her prophesied journey is complete. The novel is set in and around Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada), mainly at the historic sites of Lower Fort Garry and old St. Andrew’s Church on the Red River. It was extensively researched to provide the reader with the feeling they are participating in nineteenth century Canada.
Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the novel, what I read at the book launch and usually what I read during school visits:
“Michelle, there’s supposed to be a spectacular Harvest Moon tonight,” Mom called out as I shrugged into my jean jacket.
“I’ll mention it to the guys,” I replied, even though I knew Jason and Kevin were more interested in sports than constellations. Besides, we were supposed to be doing research for our eleventh grade history project. I also hoped that, after we got enough information from old St. Andrew’s Church on River Road, Jason might see me as more than his basketball opponent, more than just the tomboy ‘girl-next-door’ type. I almost resented J’s buddy, Kevin, tagging along with us, but those two were inseparable.
The historic site – the oldest stone church on the Prairies – was only about twenty minutes from our home in north Winnipeg. The drive went quickly because we were all excited about taking an after-hours field trip. After Jason parked his dad’s car in the gravel lot, I wandered the yard studying gravestones, while the boys sat on a low hanging branch and talked about which team would make it to the Grey Cup. Football. Basketball. Hockey. Sports was Jason’s life.
“Hey!” I called to them. “I thought we were here to research our history project.”
The guys just waved at me and continued their discussion. I stifled a sigh as I continued to jot down the names of Manitoba’s earliest settlers from the weatherworn stones – at least, those I could still read. Near the church entrance, I noticed a small, moss-covered sarcophagus. I read the inscription: ‘Archdeacon Cochrane. Died October 1, 1865. Aged seventy years’. Just over a week ago would have been the anniversary of this man’s death – over a hundred and forty years. I wished he could speak to me of those historic days. I’d get an ‘A’ on my report for sure!
Suddenly, a chill breeze blew my hair away from my neck, sending goose bumps down my back and arms. I shivered and went to find my friends.
“Closing time!” the church caretaker called out, not a moment too soon.
I was more than happy to leave that creepy place. Jason drove to Skinners, where we ate the world’s best hot dogs and slurped sodas.
“Let’s head back to the churchyard,” Jason suggested.
“But it’s illegal,” I protested. “The sign says ‘no trespassing after dusk’.”
“We aren’t going to hurt anything,” Jason insisted. “I just want to try something called ‘the withershins’. You know, where you run around a church three times at midnight. Some people claim you’ll meet the devil, or travel to the underworld, or something.”
“Now why on earth would anyone want to do that?” I argued.
“It’s just an urban legend,” Jason claimed. “Come on. It’ll be fun.”
Don’t ask me why I went along with his crazy scheme. Maybe I just wanted to show him I wasn’t chicken. Whatever the reason, it changed my life forever . . .
Jason parked by a clump of trees along the river. He and Kevin quickly climbed over the low stone fence and hurried through the graveyard, heading for the church. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath for courage. As the autumn wind wrestled the few remaining leaves off the trees, I swore I heard ghostly voices warning me away. Not wishing to be left alone in that spooky place, I hurried after the guys, calling to them in a hoarse whisper.
Instead, they ran to the other side of the church – their idea of a joke, I suppose.
On the river side of the yard, the moon shone as bright as a street light, but the north side was a different story. Partially clad trees and bushes cast eerily writhing shadows over the gravestones. I was hesitant to venture into the darkness, so I waited at the edge of the light, peering into the night. Taking another deep breath, I took a step forward expecting that, at any moment, someone, or some thing would reach out at me.
I nearly jumped out of my skin! I caught movement in a tree across the yard. Two yellow orbs blinked and stared down at me. I exhaled loudly, relieved to find it was only an owl. I continued to search for the boys, my heart beating a strong rhythm against my rib cage. I stood perfectly still, concentrating on every sound, hoping to get a clue as to their location.
Just then, something small and furry brushed against my foot. I screamed. The piercing sound echoed through the night air. I clamped a hand over my mouth to deaden the sound, but feared I might already have awakened the minister who lived across the road. I hoped he would not call the police.
As the beat of powerful wings whipped past my head, something struck my shoulder, dropping to the ground beside my foot. A triangular shape glinted in the moonlight. I reached down. The triangle felt like stone, its edges sharp, its surfaces ridged. I dug a penlight from my fanny pack so I could examine it more closely. It looked like an arrowhead. My heart beat a little faster at the discovery of such an object, wondering how old it might be. I stuffed it into my pouch and continued my quest to find my friends.
I was so focused on finding them that I didn’t notice the fog until it swept past my feet. Glancing nervously behind me, I saw mist pouring over the wall like the froth of some witch’s brew. The dampness of the swirling mass seeped through the denim of my jacket, sending fingers of ice along my spine. I headed straight for the front doors of the church, unwilling to spend another second alone in the growing fog.
Avoiding the ancient gravestones, I kept my eyes on the steeple, a mere shadow that loomed in the centre of the yard as it became shrouded in mist. Stumbling towards it, my panic grew, like the vapours surrounding me. I caught the doorstep with my toe and tumbled onto the concrete. Fortunately, my thin gloves protected my hands from a nasty scrape. Wrapping my arms around my knees, I sat down to wait for the boys.
After checking the glowing numbers on my watch, I realized it was almost midnight – a thought I found comforting only because it meant Jason would have to take me home soon. I prayed he’d forget about his crazy notion of running around the church. The fog would make that extremely difficult, not to mention dangerous.
“Jason?” I croaked. “Kevin?”
I heard disembodied snickers and knew the boys were up to something.
“Come on, you guys,” I pleaded. “This isn’t funny.”
I peered through the fog, trying to locate them, but they stayed just far enough away that all I could see were two dark silhouettes. When I took a step towards them, they backed off until they disappeared.
“C’mon you guys,” I complained, but all I heard was the sound of my own voice, muffled by the dampness around me.
The fog was now so dense, I could scarcely see more than an arm’s length ahead. I took out my flashlight, trying to pierce through the blanket of mist. My trembling hand scattered the beam in a jagged line, but didn’t illuminate the boys. The light just bounced back at me.
Suddenly, two snarling figures lunged at me.
My shriek must have been heard for miles! I flashed my light into the grinning faces of my so-called friends.
“That wasn’t funny!” I yelled at them. “I nearly had a heart attack!”
The boys simply roared with laughter. I was furious with them.
“That’s it!” I spat. “I’m going to the car.”
I stalked off across the yard. Jason ran up and grabbed my arm.
“Michelle, wait!” he laughed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you mad. Just couldn’t resist the temptation, what with the fog and all. Come on back. It’s almost midnight. We’ll do the withershins thing and then go home. Okay?”
“I don’t know,” I pouted. “I don’t like the idea of running around the church when I can barely see my feet.”
“If you stay near the building, you’ll be safe enough,” Jason insisted. “Please?”
When he gave me that puppy-dog look, how could I refuse?
“All right,” I relented. “Let’s just do it and leave. This place gives me the creeps. And you’d better not try anything funny!”
“We promise,” Kevin replied as he appeared out of the dark. He placed one hand over his heart and held his other one up as though swearing an oath. “No funny stuff.”
“Who wants to try it first?” Jason asked.
“Why can’t we all do it together?” My suggestion seemed perfectly logical to me.
“Too scared to do it alone?” Jason teased.
My cheeks puffed out in exasperation. “Fine! I’ll go, just to get this over with.”
“Okay,” Jason said. “Start by the front doors. We’ll count as you pass us. Ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess. But remember, no tricks!”
“Right, then,” Jason said. “Go!”
I took off, sprinting counter-clockwise around the church, keeping one eye on the shadowy wall, the other one on what little I could see ahead of me. As I rounded the fourth corner, I heard the boys shout, “One!” I continued on through the thick fog, keeping my shoulder close to the church for guidance.
“Two!” the boys called as I past them, again.
I was beginning to wheeze from the exertion, but knew I had to finish the ritual or I’d never hear the end of it. As I approached the final corner, I noticed a strange glow.
Probably just the boys’ flashlights, I thought, without slowing down.
As I got closer, I noticed the fog was now swirling in a circle. Before I could stop, I was suddenly engulfed in blinding white light. The air whirled around me, sucking me in like a whirlpool. I tried to pull back, but plunged head first into the eddies. I felt like I was falling in slow motion, my body numbed by wind and cold. Terrified, I screamed out Jason’s name. My voice echoed hollowly before fading away. I heard Jason and Kevin calling to me, as if from a great distance. Then, my ears were deafened by silence.
I held out my hands to brace my fall, but it seemed to take forever to land. When I finally did hit the ground, a jolt of pain shot up my wrist. As I rolled onto my side, my head struck something hard and sharp. Pinpricks of light danced in front of my eyes for a moment before they gradually disappeared. Unfortunately, the dull ache from the impact did not.
I lay on my back for a moment, trying to catch my breath and keep the world from spinning around me. I expected Jason and Kevin to rush to my side with words of sympathy, offering a helping hand, but they never arrived. Angrily, I tried to stand. A second later, I realized my mistake. Nausea forced me to sit and wait until the dizziness subsided.
Moving more slowly, I tried to steady myself, wobbling on weak knees like a newborn colt. I reached for the church wall in an attempt to steady myself, but my hand only found air. Puzzled, my eyes tried to pierce through the fog but, through its thick blanket, I could not even make out the church’s shadow. I was disoriented by the lack of landmarks. The fog obliterated everything familiar and the only two directions I knew, with any certainty, were up and down.
My annoyance deepened as I brushed myself off and noticed one knee of my jeans was torn. Blood stained the ragged edges. Touching my temple, I realized I’d gashed it as well.
“Great,” I muttered under my breath. I inhaled deeply and shouted into the fog, “Thanks for not helping, you guys!”
I hoped to hear, “Sorry,” or “Are you okay?” but the words never came.
As I stood there, the fog began to drift away, like someone shredding a wall of cotton. I was relieved. Now, I could find my way back to the church so Jason could drive me home. I didn’t want to stay another second!
I glanced in the direction I thought the church should be, but couldn’t see it. Looking up, I noticed that the full moon was still bright, illuminating the mist, which hovered just above the grass as it retreated back towards the river.
Funny, I thought. I can see moonlight glistening on the water. Earlier, the stone wall had blocked the river from view. I was surprised to see absolutely nothing obstructing my view, not even gravestones standing in the yard, only tall grass bending in the breeze. I whirled away from the river towards the church, but saw no tall steeple, no stained-glass windows, only layers of Tyndall stone bricks stacked three high, as if the entire building had been torn down. Or as if . . . a sudden, insane thought gripped my mind . . . it was in the early stage of construction.
But that was impossible, I decided. I just got turned around in the fog. Maybe I wandered too far.
I glanced over my left shoulder, staring in disbelief at the apparent wilderness that unfolded to the horizon. An occasional structure rose up in stark relief to the prairie grasses. Silhouetted creatures lowed mournfully at the stars. Despite all that, the oddest thing I noticed was the lack of trees where, before the fog swept in, the entire area had been filled with tall oaks, poplars, evergreens – and magnificent mansions artistically melded into the lavish woodlands along the riverbank.
I frowned. What the devil was going on around here?
Fear and uncertainty brewed a tempest in my stomach, a writhing, sickening hurricane of bile that threatened to engulf me. I swallowed hard to squelch the urge to vomit. With extreme effort, I forced my mind to consider logical explanations for what was happening, but it was as barren as the wind-swept prairie that stretched out for kilometres in every direction.
I was furious at Jason and Kevin for talking me into all this – and mad at myself for giving in to Jason’s charm. Now, I was lost. Drawing myself up as tall as possible, I decided to be as level-headed about my situation as possible. Without Jason to drive me, I knew I’d need to call Dad for a ride home. I slowly circled, peering through the darkness for a place that might have a pay phone.
A building loomed out of the darkness only a couple hundred metres away. It had a strange silhouette with a sloping roofline, but it was the closest thing to a house I could see. I aimed for it, hoping that whoever lived there would let me use their phone to call home. Maybe the occupants could also tell me where the heck I was.
Blinding pain pierced my head and throbbed in my wrist as I stumbled along the uneven ground towards the oddly primitive house. It looked like something from ‘Little House On The Prairie’, with simple wood boards and plain, single-pane glass windows. An old-fashioned latch secured the door, which was held onto its frame by cast-iron hinges. Since there was absolutely nothing modern about the structure, I wondered whether the occupants were trying to get back to nature, but they were a long way from the Hutterite colony to the west. Maybe they were part of some historically-based reality show.
I banged on the rough door until I heard movement inside. In order to ease their minds I called out, “I need your help! Please, can you help me? I’m lost!”
A muffled debate seeped through the cracks of the un-insulated wall, as though the people inside were deciding whether it was safe to open the door to a complete stranger at that late hour. Finally, a balding, middle-aged man in a striped, knee-length nightshirt opened the door. A woman, wearing a frilly flannel nightgown and cap, cowered behind him holding a brass candleholder. The candle flame wavered in the woman’s nervous hand.
“Who is it?” she whispered to her husband.
The man took the flickering candle and held it towards me.
“Do I know ye, lad?” he asked in a distinctively Scottish brogue.
“No,” I replied, ignoring the fact he’d referred to me as a boy. “I’m lost. Could I please use your phone?”
“Phone?” The man’s brow puckered into a sea of wrinkles. “I have never heard of such a thing, but come in child. Ye look half frozen.”
My teeth were chattering a bit, but more from nervousness than the damp chill. The old-fashioned couple seemed harmless enough, although a bit eccentric, so I took a chance and stepped inside. The man passed the candle back to the woman and shoved the door closed. I followed the woman’s eerie shadow down a short hallway into a large room.
Walking to a wood-burning stove, she set the candle on its warming shelf. She lifted a lid, stirred the embers with a poker and tossed in a split log. Satisfied by the warm glow, the woman replaced the stove cover. Bringing the candle to the simple wood table, she returned her attention to me. She offered me a seat on a homemade chair with a quilted cushion.
“How did ye happen to be lost?” the man asked.
“I was with friends,” I began, deciding to give the simplest explanation. “We were at St. Andrew’s when a fog rolled in. When it disappeared, everything was different. I guess I wandered too far away. I have no idea where I am, now.”
Tears threatened to spill down my cheek, so I bit my lip and looked away.
“Poor child!” the woman said, patting my shoulder sympathetically.
“What farm do ye hail from?” the man asked.
“Farm?” I questioned. “I come from the city. You know, Winnipeg.”
“What place is that, now?” he asked, his forehead puckering. “Ye must have come from a great distance, from a place I do not know.”
“You must have heard of Winnipeg,” I replied. “It’s the biggest city around here.”
“Perhaps ye mean the Upper Fort,” the man said, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. “‘Tis the largest place I know of around here.”
“Upper Fort?” I asked. “You must mean Lower Fort Garry.”
“There is that, too,” he said. “It is also a mite closer. Ye must be from there.”
Satisfied that he had solved the problem, he crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. I, on the other hand, was not at all satisfied. I let out an exasperated sigh, wondering how I could explain myself any more clearly to this odd couple.
“It doesn’t matter where I came from,” I said finally. “If I could just use your phone . . .”
The blank look on their faces confused me.
“You do have a phone, don’t you? You know, telephone? The thing you use when you want to talk to someone a long way away?”
“Maybe one of your neighbours has one,” I suggested, rising with the hope of finding just such a person.
I definitely needed to get out of here. These people must be nuts if they’ve never heard of a phone. Everybody in this day and age . . . I stopped. This day and age, I repeated to myself. A terrifying thought nagged at me from a corner of my brain. What if that weird swirling thing had been a portal to another dimension, another time? I’ve seen shows about other dimensions and time travel, but never for one moment did I ever believe such crap was possible. Now, I wasn’t so sure. Had the withershins thing actually worked? Had the ritual sent me back in time instead of to the underworld, as Jason suggested?
If I had travelled back in time, how much should I reveal about what I knew of the future? Then again, if this was all just a dream, what would it matter? As I silently tried to work things out, the couple gave me the most peculiar looks, as though I’d gone completely off my rocker. Maybe I had, but I needed to know, so decided to test the theory. Holding out my hand, I introduced myself.
“My name is Michelle Langly. What’s yours?” I asked the woman.
“Annie Cochrane,” she replied, giving my hand a little shake. She still seemed uncertain about my sanity, turning to her husband for support.
“I am William Cochrane,” he said, authoritatively. “Anglican minister to the parish of St. Andrew’s.”
His name! Why did it seem so familiar? Hot lead burned in my gut as I remembered. Hidden beneath the tabletop, I slowly unzipped my fanny pack and checked the list of names I had recorded from the gravestones.
“Archdeacon Cochrane?” I asked hesitantly.
“I have not, as yet, been given the honour,” he replied modestly. “Perhaps there will come a day when that title will be bestowed upon me.”
“I’m sure it will,” I muttered under my breath. To them, I spoke louder, “This may sound like a really strange question, but what is today’s date?”
“October tenth,” Annie answered.
I hesitated to ask the next question for fear they’d know I was crazy, but I had to know.
“What year?” I probed, grimacing under their stares.
“Why, the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and forty-six, of course!” Annie responded with an incredulous look on her face. She glanced at her husband, then peered at me. Taking a step closer, she touched the gash on my forehead.
“I really think ye should get this child to a doctor, Will. I fear she must be ill.”
“I shall attend to that immediately after I dress,” he agreed. “Would ye prepare the carriage, please, Annie?”
“Certainly!” she said. “Come, child.”
I was too stunned by the revelation that I might actually have been transported back in time to put up much resistance as she took my hand and led me to the barn. I watched her harness a big black ox to what the reverend referred to as a ‘carriage’. To me, it was little more than a two-wheeled, Red River cart. If that’s how he was going to get me to the doctor, it could take forever, and it certainly did not look like a comfortable ride.
This whole thing must be a dream, I concluded. Time travel isn’t possible. I’ll just go along with it until I finally wake up. Satisfied with my decision, I nodded, but stopped as an arrow of pain stabbed through my head. I pursed my lips, drawing in the sharp autumn air. I touched the sticky mass of blood matting the hair at my temple. Annie, leading the ox and cart out into the yard, cast me a concerned look.
“Does it hurt, lass?” she asked.
“Actually,” I replied. “I am starting to get quite a headache.”
“The doctor at the Lower Fort will fix ye up, right as rain,” Annie assured me.
Just then, the reverend arrived, buttoning his dark jacket under white ruffles that flounced at his neck. Annie rushed into the house, returning a moment later with a thick quilt, which she thrust into my arms.
“It will keep out the sharp wind and cushion some of the bumps you’ll find along the trail,” she said.
Great, I thought. A bumpy ride when my head felt ready to explode. This is going to be so much fun – NOT! I forced a smile on my face and thanked Annie for her kindness. The reverend hopped onto the cart and patted the seat beside him.
“Come along, child. It shall take the rest of the night to get there as it is. Let us not dally further.”
He held out his hand and pulled me up to the plank used as a seat. I hunched into the quilt, stuffing half of the down-filled bulk beneath me. With a flick of the reins, the ox jerked forward, plodding along a hard-packed mud trail that contained more ruts and grooves than the pockmarked surface of the moon.
As a wolf howled in the distance, I shuddered, wondering what lay ahead.
The follow-up novel re-introduces Michelle, who finds out some disturbing news about the people she met in the past. She is compelled to return to save the life of her mentor. This time, in order to return home, she must stay until she fully understands the nature of her ‘forgotten heritage’.