THE SECRET ROSES by Patrick Goddard Prologue: “I found me in a gloomy wood, astray...

” In the summer of 1986, everything was perfect. I was sixteen. I lived in Calgary. My two older sisters had left home for good. I went to an alternative high school. I’d gotten rid of every friend I’d ever made. Everything was perfect. I should’ve been paying closer attention. A year earlier, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent a new wave of Canadian soldiers—and their families—to defend West Germany from the Evil Empire on the other side of the Berlin Wall. In August 1986, he sent me. As I told you, I’m not an army brat. My parents aren’t soldiers; they’re high school teachers. But army brats need high school teachers, and more brats meant more teachers. Unbeknownst to me, my parents had been applying to teach overseas for years. They drank champagne to celebrate the good news. I almost shaved my head in protest. On the plane, I turned up my walkman and looked at my map. Lahr Schwarzwald was a small town in the southwest corner of Germany: the Black Forest. I imagined a gingerbread village patrolled by soldiers in gasmasks with machine guns and flamethrowers. Soldiers rounding up all the witches and stepchildren and trolls and putting them on the trains. Hansel and Gretel in the underground working for the occupiers by day with their blond hair and blue eyes; by night, saboteurs dynamiting train tracks and giving the talking animals directions to their secret base somewhere in neutral Switzerland. “When will it be over, Hansel?” Gretel asks, her young forehead knotting in concern, blue eyes darkening with tears. “When our leader returns to us,” says Hansel, taking her in his young strong arms... My mother pushed stop on my walkman. Wakey-wakey.The plane dropped below the clouds and we began our descent to Lahr.

Copyright © 2007 by Patrick Goddard

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EPISODE I SPARKS Part One: Kindling Friday, August 22, 1986: I got my first German lesson when Rachel Trevelyan showed up at my door to take me to school. “Wilkommen aus Deutschland!” Rachel was short and small but sort of pudgy with vestiges of baby fat. She dressed in baggy preppie clothes: white cotton shirt with some kind of crest on the breast pocket; long pink dress; white flats. She didn’t wear jewelry or makeup except for a pinkish lip gloss. She had dark eyes and blond hair that was permed and shoulder-length. It was the only remarkable thing about her. “My dad thought that, like, since it’s the first day of school and I’m your sponsor and everything...” She held up a finger for a second, scrunched up her rodent face, and sneezed. “Excuse me,” she said, then unfurled a tissue and blew her wet little nose. “Allergies. Anyway. Are you ready?” To help me acclimatize to life in Lahr, Principal Trevelyan had appointed his only child as my sponsor. I didn’t need one, but my mother, who’s never fully given up on my social life, insisted I wait for Rachel. My parents left early to prepare for their classes. I’d been ready for nearly half an hour. Our new home was a tiny apartment on the second floor of a three-storey white building on a side street off a side street near a main street. We turned onto Feuerwehrstraβe (the β sounds like the s in hiss). “Do you want me to teach you some German?” Rachel asked. “Go for it.” Lahr’s streets were so narrow they had to park their cars half on the sidewalk. They were Audis and BMWs and Volkswagens and something that looked like a Beetle only flimsier. They were lime-green and lemon-yellow and popsicle orange. The buildings were margarine yellow or white or brown, or had become brownish-yellowy-white. It was hot and humid: too hot for the black suit and trenchcoat I was wearing. You could practically smell the pollution in the haze. “Okay, well, let’s start with Lahr. Where we live? The name comes—probably—from the word leer, which means, like, ‘empty’. Lahr used to just be a big pasture. My dad’s the principal, but he used to be a history teacher? Anyway. But you know what? The word sounds like Lehre, which means a lesson.” “So Lahr is a lesson in emptiness. Great.” Rachel sneezed. “Stupid allergies. They’ll be gone in, like, a couple of weeks. I never had allergies in Ottawa. But, like, no one has allergies before they move to Lahr. Then it’s like they take one breath and they catch asthma—not that you can catch asthma, but, you know. Lahr’s super polluted. Good thing it rains a lot. Have you got an umbrella? You should get one. I won’t be around to protect you forever! I’m just kidding. I make a lot of stupid jokes. Anyway. Speaking of rain—here’s another word. Feuerwehrstraβe.” “Okay, Straβe is street. I guess Feuer... sounds like fire. Is that it? And Wehr... as in, ‘beware’? Beware Fire Street?” “Wow,you’re really good! Yeah, except Wehr means safety or defense—” “Like the Nazi army was the Wehrmacht—” “Yeah, except the German army’s still called that, but, anyway. So this is Fire Defense Street. See that stone wall between us and the forest? I guess that’s what it’s there for: to protect the town in
Copyright © 2007 by Patrick Goddard

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case the Black Forest ever catches fire. Can you imagine that? Like, what if all the Grimm’s fairy tales caught on fire and started burning—and suddenly that scary horse from ‘The Goose Girl’, like, just the head with that nail through it—if all those stories caught fire? And maybe they couldn’t wake Sleeping Beauty up? Or maybe the wolf had to save Red Riding Hood since the lumberjack was busy fighting the fire? And all those trolls and ogres and witches and everything, just running for their lives and being, like, smoked out into the open?” She sneezed again. “Sorry. I must sound like a total spaz.” “Maybe the wall’s there to keep all the fairy tale characters in and the fire’s just an excuse.” “Oh my god I never thought of that. Hey, maybe that’s why they call it the Schwarz Walled.” “I thought it was pronounced vald.” “Yeah, but maybe that’s part of the plot, right? Okay, whoa Rachel, ‘the plot’, like—hello!“ She sneezed. “Gesundheit,” I said. Rachel and I passed the dirt road entrance to the Black Forest and crossed the road onto the sidewalk. “Anyway. These orange apartment buildings on our left? The army brats mostly live in these apartment complexes; they’re called ‘areas’. This is Area 4. Ken and Martine live there. That’s how they met—walking to school. Isn’t that romantic?” She sneezed and wiped her nose—some Gretel. We crossed Langemarckstraβe’s cobblestone and turned left at the yellow-and-black striped wooden barrier, beyond which dark green buses were starting to disgorge screaming children. We followed a white iron fence north to the guardpost. “Have you got your ID card ready? You have to show it, like, every time you go through the Main Gate. Don’t worry, the guard doesn’t have real bullets except if there’s an exercise or a terrorist alert or something, but usually they’re really nice. Good morning!” And so we entered the Caserne, headquarters of something called 4 CMBG. The wide, cobblestone street had no name. None of the streets of the Caserne did. We walked all the way east down the mute main street past a bunch of old, rundown, white or margarine-yellow buildings with no way to tell them apart but their numbers. Rachel babbled on between sneezes pointing out the Arrowhead Arena, the Post Office, the Community Library—”which totally sucks except you can rent records for, like, two marks. You know that you pay for everything in Deutschmarks here, right?”—the one-storey department store, the American-run bookstore, the Groceteria. At the end of the street was a soccer field ringed by a red clay track. “Okay, hang a right here. This is K-11. The Video Store’s in the basement, have your parents got a card yet? There’s only CFN for television here, which sucks. They actually just play videotapes they get from Canada, so even hockey games are like three weeks late? So everyone watches videos—like all the time. Anyway. I think our math class is here, too, upstairs next to the school library, which sucks even worse than the Community Library, if such a thing is possible. I’m sorry. I must sound like such a witch!” She sneezed again. “Arr, I hate this place! I didn’t get anything on you or anything did I, oh my god that’s a gross question thank you very much, Rachel, but I didn’t, did I?” “No.” “Good! Okay! Hey, did you know we’ve got homeroom together? English 11A with your dad, right?” “That’s what my orders say.” “Just because I’m your sponsor doesn’t mean you can copy off me. I’m just kidding. And here we are!” Lahr Senior School was two yellowish three-story buildings with peaked roofs. K-13, the main building, was on our left as we walked towards K-12. To our right was another identical building. KCopyright © 2007 by Patrick Goddard

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11 was now behind us. There was a tiny parking lot full of beat-up sherbet-coloured cars and a concrete courtyard dotted with concrete picnic benches and metal drums for garbage cans. Guys wearing jean jackets covered in hand-drawn logos of heavy metal bands smoked and flirted with girls in leather jackets and tight jeans. Between the two furthest buildings a set of stairs led up to Feuerwehrstraβe. A line of green buses puked out a stream of army brats through the narrow gate and down the stairs. Rachel said, “Let’s go see if my friends are here yet! We all decided to take homeroom together —isn’t that cool? Come on, don’t be shy!” She spazzed through the north door of K-13. Like, totally cool, I thought. Christ. The hallways were narrow and crowded. The floors were blue rubber. Doors had been painted according to their subject: golden Egyptian pharaohs for History; for English, a British man o’war on a dark sea. “This is going to be so great!” Rachel bounced through the open door. “Ohmygod you’re already here!” The classroom had several rows of white tables with two chairs to each table and a teacher’s desk and blackboard. Windows looked out onto the soccer field and the Black Forest. A knot of kids sat on tables and chairs, right at the front. They all held single red roses. A tallish girl with shoulderlength hair dyed bright red beamed through too much makeup at my sponsor. “Salut, Rachel!” she shrieked in French and threw her arms around Rachel. The two girls were between me and a prospective seat. Rachel turned back to me. “Remember how I said I was sponsoring another teacher’s kid? This is Alan. Alan, this is my best friend, Martine.” “Salut, Martine.” “Come and sit with us!” said Rachel. I trailed along in the girls’ chatty wake. A big guy in a black jean vest and an Iron Maiden shirt sat on one of the desks, facing away from the blackboard. “Alan, this is Dan...” “Hey,” he said, sizing me up from behind smoky aviator shades. Martine’s boyfriend? No, the redhead passed him and cuddled up with— “And this is Martine’s boyfriend—from Edmonton. Well, Martine is too, but she’s French. I don’t know what that means, whatever...” “Ken,” he said and stretched out his hand in a friendly Western way. “Nice to meet ya.” “This is Mark...” “H’lo,” he said, holding onto the camera hanging from his neck. “And this is Tom.” Tom had been watching me from his post atop the windowsill since I walked into the room. Grey eyes filed away information behind grey-tinted glasses. Grey windbreaker, grey and black striped shirt, grey pants. “Cheers,” he said. “Alan Barnes. Rachel tells me you’re from Calgary.” I got the impression that even his hair was grey, though it was dirty blond—the only thing about Tom that remotely resembled colour. Even his teeth were grey: braces. “Oh, Rachel,” sang Martine in a sweet alto, “I’ve got something for you.” She pronounced Rachel’s name in English and her English had only the faintest québécois accent. “Voilà!” She produced a single red rose from under the table she shared with Ken. “Ohmygod Martine! For me? That’s so sweet!” “We all fuckin’ got ‘em,” rumbled Dan. The guys held up their roses to remind her. “Nice, Dan,” said Mark, laughing. “So, Tom, where were we?” The group turned to the grey kid perched on the windowsill. “Huh? Oh, the game, right. So, in the game you play yourself—you’re still Mark Paxton—only with super powers.” “What?” This was news to Rachel. She leaned in and the circle made room for her. I edged towards the window in the second row of tables, just behind the circle, and sat in a chair. Slowly the other students filtered into the room. They were mostly preppies wearing Ralph Lauren and Ocean
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Pacific in pastel blue or pink; jocks in Roots sweaters or team jerseys; everyone, it seemed, in blue jeans and white Reeboks. Mark explained: “It’s this role-playing game Tom’s dad sent him for his birthday.” “But your birthday’s, like, in June.” “But it’s my real dad who sent it.” “Ohhhh.” “Now—if I may continue—you’re still you, whoever ‘you’ is, but you’ve got a secret identity. For example: by day, Tom Kidder, the same bespectacled braceface Tom Kidder you see before you. But by night...” Suddenly, a blast of tinny Bruce Springsteen from a walkman turned on way too loud. The girl in the doorway looked up and took off her headphones. Black curly hair fell down to her shoulders, framing a pale oval face and wide black eyes. Red lips. Red button-down shirt. Black jeans. Red high heels. And a leather red, white, and blue jacket from the 1984 USA Olympics. “Hey,” she snapped towards the circle. “Is this English 11A?” Her accent was flat and loud and sharp: the sound of chewing on tinfoil. The circle exchanged looks and Tom eventually said, “Sure.” “Cool.” The girl in the red high heels stood solidly in the doorway not caring that the other kids had to trudge around her. Bruce Springsteen blared his greatest hits from an ocean away. Her black eyes focused squarely on Tom and the red rose in his hands. Tom’s grey eyes focused on the girl and her star-spangled jacket. “Problems?” she demanded, leaning forward, widening her eyes. Mark broke the spell and turned the circle back inward. “No problems,” he said. “So—Tom. Ground control to Major Tom. Come in, Tom. Tom Kidder by day...” “Hey,” barked the dark-eyed girl. “I’m still talking to you. You can’t just ignore people like that. What are you, snobs or something?” Martine snapped around. “You must be new here.” “Yeah. Hey.” She shut off the music. “Patricia Christianson.” She moved in to shake hands. Dan cut her off. “You know where you are, right, Patty?” “It’s Patricia.” “You’re on a Canadian Forces Base, Patty. That’s what C-F-B stands for.” “So?” “So, some people might get offended by the coat.” “Very offended,” added Martine. “Hey—I’m an American. I can wear my own flag if I want to.” “Well, we don’t like Yanks, Patty.” “‘Yanks’?” Rachel stepped in. “Guys. She’s, like—her dad got posted to the General Motors plant in Strasbourg. This was the closest English school. That’s why she’s here. Right?” “If that’s okay with all of you.” “You’d think,” said Martine to Rachel, “people would show a little more respect for their hosts.” “Just imagine,” said Ken to Martine, “if you wore the Canadian flag somewhere where everybody hated Canada.” “But nobody fuckin’ hates us, Ken.” “Hey, you’re right, Dan!” “Yeah,” agreed Mark. “Canada doesn’t send all of its acid rain over the border.” Martine joined in. “Canada doesn’t have enough nuclear weapons to kill everything on Earth.” Dan closed it. “Canada doesn’t have other countries rescue our fuckin’ hostages for us.” “We could go on,” threatened Ken.
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Dan went on: “Let’s put it this way, Patty: the last time you Yanks fucked with us, we burned the White House to the ground.” Dark eyes narrowed; red fingernails dug into white palms. Finally, Patricia said: “You know what? We’re not in Canada. We’re not in America. We’re not anywhere. So why don’t you all just shut up.” Martine stood up. Even in flats she was almost an inch taller than Patricia in her heels. “Listen, bitch. As far as you’re concerned, this is Canada, and we made a border from you assholes for a reason, so why don’t you go crawl back into the hole you came from and take your stupid flag coat with you.” She stared at Patricia for a moment. “Problems?” Black eyes turned to slits. Red lips pressed together and went white. “No problem,” she managed. She jammed Springsteen back on, turned on her red heels, and stumbled out. Martine smooched Ken hard on the cheek and wrapped it all up with a sweet little “Et voilà!” “So, Tom,” said Mark, returning to the circle, “Tom Kidder by day...” My father entered wearing his traditional first-day-of-school cream-coloured suit, placed his briefcase on his desk, and took off his glasses. “Good morning! Is everyone here for English 11A? Why don’t we all find our seats. I’m Mr. Barnes. Let’s go, guys. We’ve got a lot of paperwork to get through before we can actually learn anything.” Everyone sat down, two to a table. Rachel sat beside me. “Guess we’re stuck together. You still can’t copy off me though.” Mr. Barnes took attendance. “Christianson, Patricia... Patricia? Does anyone know if Patricia Christianson is here?” Just then the fire alarm went off. I followed the others out into the hardcourt and looked for the American girl. She was nowhere to be seen. “It’s probably some stupid grade eight or something looking for attention,” said Rachel. Rachel was wrong. Dad told me later that Patricia had gone to an empty locker on the third floor, used a paperback copy of Tolkien’s The Silmarillon as kindling, and set her star-spangled jacket on fire. They shut the locker and let the flames starve themselves out. Principal Trevelyan suspended Patricia for a week. Part Two: The Old Bag I spent my first week at Lahr Senior School wanting to set something on fire myself. Unfortunately, Monday was a foggy, drizzly, fall morning, greyish-green, and nothing would catch. We’d all been told to wear something red and white. Our first school spirit activity of the year was to make a giant human Canadian flag on the soccer field. Mark went with one of the teachers up to the attic above the third floor to take the photo. The rest of us were herded onto the field. “Come on. It’s for the yearbook,” whined Rachel. “Are you sure you don’t have anything red? You could, like, wear my sweater if you want.” “Leave him alone, Ray,” said Ken. “I mean, if you’re only here a year, you’re not even going to be in Lahr when the yearbooks come out. We have to send them to Winnipeg to get printed, so we won’t get the yearbook until next fall.” “Well, you’re not going to be here next fall,” countered Rachel, “and you’re all dressed up.” “Yeah, but I’m an actor. I like dressing up.” Ken stuck his tongue out at Rachel and crossed his eyes. She giggled and sneezed. “What about you, Alan?” “What about me?” “I mean, what are you? Like, you’re in Drama, but you’re not an actor. Dan’s a techie; Mark’s a photographer; Martine’s in Band; Tom’s a writer...” “I’m just here because my parents dragged me here.”
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“Well, you’re a friend of Ray’s, so I guess you can hang out with us.” Ken smiled with perfect teeth. “There’s a dance on Thursday at the Main Gym. Coming?” “Why Thursday?” “Beats me. Maybe they’re afraid things will get crazy if it’s Friday night, now that we’re sixteen and we’re allowed to drink legally here. Not that we drink or anything. We can look like idiots without it. Come to the dance. You’ll see for yourself.” “I’ll see how I feel on Thursday,” I lied. We got into line on the field. Two students held up a West German flag in the empty heart of the maple leaf. Everyone smiled and waved through the stinking mist towards the low Black Forest sky. I felt like they were saluting at a Nuremberg rally. I never did have much school spirit. But I discovered that Lahr Senior School did have something I liked: nothing. It had no school jacket; no school paper; its sports teams were insignificant to the point that they didn’t even have a team name. There were only about 600 students from grades seven to thirteen: way too small for real Breakfast Club-type cliques. I’d loved my school in Calgary because the teachers left me alone to work; it seemed to me that the entire world had left Lahr Senior School alone, nameless, floating through Europe in what I found out had been postwar French army barracks. The place had potential. If only it hadn’t had Trevelyan. We were marched across the back street of the Caserne to a second gym, the New Gym, which was our main assembly hall, with a stage at one end. Principal Peter Trevelyan was a dark-haired, dark-eyed bearded man in bad 70’s glasses. He gave us a speech telling us that we were not just students: we were ambassadors here to represent Canada. He told us that he wasn’t going to tolerate our behaving as if we were on a four-year vacation from school just because we weren’t at home. Lahr Senior School under Principal Peter Trevelyan was a serious business, and our business was learning. Just because we weren’t in Canada didn’t make Lahr Senior School special. Lahr Senior School to the Troll was just another normal Canadian school. “What did you call my dad?” breathed Rachel. I hadn’t realized I’d said it out loud. “The Troll. Trevelyan. It’s not a very good nickname. What does everyone else call him?” “Mister Trevelyan. As in my last name. I think you’re a troll. I don’t think I like being your sponsor anymore. It’s okay, though. Sorry?” “You’re kidding.” “Apology accepted. Let’s get to class. I like your dad. Hey, are you going to the dance?” Of course Patricia wouldn’t be there. Not only did she have no friends; not only was she suspended; but she lived in Strasbourg, France, and she couldn’t just casually walk home if she got bored. It wasn’t Patricia I was looking for. I went to look for Jen. In grade nine, there was an army brat in the bilingual class of my school, and we went out for a while. We almost did a lot more than go out. She was crazy. I was crazy. Maybe I still was. I was definitely not thinking clearly. All of Lahr so far had been a greenish-grey dream to me, and in that dream there was a fiery, dark-eyed girl waiting to pounce on me. Except that Patricia was American and Jen was Scots-Canadian, and Patricia’s black hair seemed natural and Jen’s was artificial, and, I don’t know, I didn’t know, I really didn’t know what I was doing at all, waiting until nightfall, walking into the rear entrance of the Main Gym that Thursday of the First Dance, but I was looking—or waiting—for someone, some sharp, dark girl to cut through the drizzle and grab me. At the dances I went to with Jen when we were fourteen, couples danced in straight parallel lines in our small brown gym on the second floor, with the DJ set up on the stage at the far end. Lahr Senior’s Main Gym was like an airplane hangar. It was actually newer than the New Gym; the floor was springy and sort of greenish-grey. The DJ’s were a couple of the grade twelve or thirteen students. There was no stage. At the rear entrance, a fold-out table was manned by a couple of the grade tens or elevens. They told me it was five Deutschmarks to get in. I tossed a big silver coin on the table and presented my fist to have the back of my hand stamped. Lahr Senior danced half-heartedly in small circles to “Dangerzone” from Top Gun. The song
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ended and changed to the theme song from Karate Kid II. Circles broke up, shifted, couples formed, swayed. “I am a man who will fight for your honor/I’ll be the hero you’ve been dreaming of...” Jen and I would have never danced to this tripe. We’d have waited it out for something bright and hard and fast, and when it hit, when they played the Clash or the Go-Go’s or something, her face would light up in a sneer and she’d grab my hand way too hard and drag me onto the floor and we’d slam through the parallel lines like black tank shells through pink plastic mannequins. But now the Clash had broken up; Belinda Carlisle had gotten a nose job and synthesizers; and Jen... Jen was not here. And I would never, ever see her again. More Top Gun music now: “Turning and returning to some secret place inside...” Rachel noticed me from the far corner. She waved “Hi” and “Come over.” She sat out this slow one with Dan and Tom while Mark took yearbook photos and Ken and Martine danced. I pretended not to see her and walked home, drenched in an ugly acid mist. If Mulroney hadn’t sent all those soldiers here, my parents wouldn’t have gotten their jobs. Fuck him. If my parents hadn’t dragged me here, I’d still be at my alternative school not thinking about anything except the next test. Fuck them. And if Patricia hadn’t walked into homeroom, I would’ve never started missing anyone. Fuck her to fucking hell. The first meeting of the Secret Roses was conducted in secrecy, yet with an ingenious display of innocence. It was as if they were play-acting characters who only happened to share their names and faces. If questioned, they would be able to claim they were only playing a game. And if the game happened to share the settings and events of actual history? Meaningless coincidence. As I said, ingenious. On Friday night, Rachel walked me to Ken’s apartment in Area 4. “You don’t have to play Tom’s game if you don’t want to,” she said. “I mean, we can just hang out or whatever. These roleplaying games, I don’t know, you’ve got to be into, like, The Lord of the Rings and stuff, so...” “So what are you into?” I asked. “Me? Oh god, I don’t know. I used to be in ballet? Back in Ottawa. But then I hurt my knee, so I had to stop? It’s okay, I mean, I miss it sometimes, but, anyway. It was pretty much right before we moved here and there’s nowhere in Lahr to take proper class so it’s probably better that I had to stop, right? But I still really love the music, like Tchaikovsky and that. You probably think I’m a freak. Anyway. Here we are, so... Like, you’re not hanging out with us just to be nice or anything, not that you would do that, not that you’re not nice, except you’re not... Sorry.” “It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do.” The apartment was on the second floor. The place was enormous: the hallway was as long as a bowling alley. There were two bathrooms and three huge bedrooms. Ken’s was first on the right: a massive empty space with a view of the Black Forest and Rachel’s troll defense wall. He had hardly any furniture: just a bed under the windows, a large wardrobe standing against the west wall, and a desk and a bookshelf with a small stereo playing the soundtrack to Chess. Old movie posters hung on the walls: Casablanca, Singin’ In The Rain, Camelot, West Side Story. There was another door on the east wall, leading to a smaller room with a sink and white cupboards. “My dad says that it used to be the maid’s room or something. That’s where I keep my comics. Pretty cool, eh? You want a Coke? My idiot little brother is out trying to look cool and get people to buy him beer, so nobody’s gonna bug us. And my folks are out square dancing, so we can be as loud as we want—which can get pretty loud!” He led me across the length of the apartment to the kitchen, which had a separate pantry and another small room with east windows. “Huge, eh? My dad’s only a WO, but he really knows how to play itchy-scratchy. We spent our first year on the economy out in Ettenheim, which was horrible. Then we got a PMQ in Area 31 near the Bahnhof—that’s where Dan and Mark live. I was a bus monster, so I was this close to being a mass murderer. But then last year Dad scored us this place, and I met Martine when I was moving in. But
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we have to repat at the end of the year, so I guess I’m SOL, eh?” I nodded and accepted a Coke, but I had no idea what he was talking about. Tom called us to order. Dan tossed his cigarette butt out the window; Martine stuffed a last chip into her mouth; Mark returned from the toilet and shut Ken’s door behind him. “Okay, has everyone got pencils and calculators? I brought a couple extra if anyone needs them. Are you guys playing?” “Sure,” I said. “Why not?” “Cool. Have a pencil. And here are your character sheets. Okay. This game is a little different from your standard role-playing game. The difference is the setting isn’t Middle Earth or the future or anything like that, and we’re not playing elves or wizards or starship captains. The setting is CFB Lahr in the fall of 1986. And we’re playing ourselves.” “Only with super-powers,” added Dan hopefully. “We’ll get to the super-powers,” said Tom, grey eyes twinkling. “Trust me.” “That’s what you said about Call Of Cthulhu,” joked Mark. “And they all died, insane ever after,” joked Ken. “I don’t foresee anyone getting et by Nyarlathotep this time. And you guys are already insane. The first step is to create ourselves. So let’s be honest – we’re all friends here...” “Waitasec,” said Ken. “These are all our own stats?” “Your very own stats, as you the more-or-less human being I see before me. As if you’d rolled them on 3d6 – sorry, Alan, three six-sided dice. Somewhere between 3 and 18.” “And what’s ‘charisma’?” “In this game, it’s like how good of a good guy or how bad of a bad guy you are. Like, Superman would be 492 or something; and Wolverine would be a 1.” “I’m puttin’ down 3,” said Dan. “You’re more of a good guy than that,” said Martine. “Fine—4.” “Just let me know when you’re done.” Alan Barnes... Kind of small and weak... Definitely not very agile, but he does play tennis... Really smart... Not a goody-goody; might let bad things happen to goody-goodies to watch them squirm; but not evil, either... Strength: 10 Endurance: 9 Agility: 11 Intelligence: 15 Charisma: 9 “Everybody done? Okay, here’s the boring part.” He led us through a series of calculations to see how long we could last in a fight, how fast we could move, how much damage we could take. I was in serious trouble. I suppose that’s where the super-powers would come in handy. “All right then,” said Tom. “It’s Friday, August 22, 1986: the first day of yet another year at Lahr Senior School.” lost.” “I’m not going to sit there and let this American bitch walk all over us, right? So I tell her to get “She puts her walkman back on and gets lost.” “‘Et voilà!’ I give my boyfriend a big kiss on the cheek—like this...” “Mr. Barnes walks in and starts to take attendance. Then the fire alarm goes off. What do you do?” “In real life?” asks Mark. “Real life is over. Right now. The fire alarm goes off. What do you do?”
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I think I get what Tom’s after. “I cross my arms and lean against the windowsill and watch everyone panic.” “No one panics—Mr. Barnes just asks us all to calmly get up and leave. What do you do?” “I wait for everyone to calmly get up and leave.” Ken says: “I wait to see what the new guy does.” Martine: “I wait to see what my boyfriend does.” “Are we all waiting to see what the Man in Black does? Okay. Mr. Barnes tells us to leave the room. We’re the last ones there.” Me: “I calmly get up and leave the room.” Ken: “I follow him.” Tom: “Do we all follow? Okay. Mr. Barnes says, ‘See you outside,’ and leaves the building.” Me: “I go upstairs to look for the American girl. Is there anyone left inside?” Tom: “Nope.” Ken: “I follow him.” Tom: “Do you say anything to him?” Rachel: “Where are you going, Alan? We’re supposed to go outside.” Alan: “This isn’t a real fire. I had a girlfriend once, back in Calgary, who used to pull fire alarms when she was pissed off and wanted attention.” Rachel: “But what if it is a real fire?” Alan: “Then someone better get a fire extinguisher.” Ken: “I stop on the second floor and get a fire extinguisher.” The third floor is deserted and dark. Too dark. And cold. You can almost feel the barometer dropping. There’s a noise from one of the lockers—and a light. “I’d better check it out,” says Ken. He brandishes the fire extinguisher and creeps forward carefully. There is one open locker about twenty feet away. You can see flame flickering out of it, lapping up the heat and light of the hallway, almost beckoning you. Ken approaches it cautiously, me and the others close behind. He opens the locker. You see a fire stretching back as far as the eye can see. It’s almost hypnotic. It starts to draw Ken in. Suddenly a flame flicks out at him. Ken rears back and activates the fire extinguisher. There is a burst of white. Then silence. Then someone falls out of the locker! “Holy shit!” exclaims Ken. “Shit, holy shit, yes, shitholey, shitty hole shit!” She cackles, then starts to cough: a hideous, racking cough from the bottom of her lungs. It’s like she’s coughing up ashes. She wipes them off her chin. The old woman tries to stand. “Ken, help her!” says Martine. Ken gives Martine the fire extinguisher and reaches out to the old woman. “It’s okay,” he says softly. “You’re okay now. You’re safe.” “What a lovely voice,” says the old woman. She looks up. She has no eyes. She’s dressed in rags. She’s covered in white ash. What’s left of her hair is white and thin. She has only a few teeth left. Ken, when you touch her, you realize her bones are incredibly fragile—and that her fingernails have fallen out. “Radiation poisoning,” says Mark. “Who’s that?” says the old woman, pulling her hand away. “We’re friends,” says Ken. “We’re here to help you.” “Are you human?” “Yes, we’re human, we’re human beings just like you.”
Copyright © 2007 by Patrick Goddard

Patrick Goddard

The Secret Roses – Episode I

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The old woman laughs: a horrible, screeching laugh that turns into that racking, hacking cough. “Stupid,” she says. “Stupid humans, you did this to me! I was beautiful! I was a Queen! And you took it all from me! I can’t even cry! You took all my tears, you shits, you holey shits! Here! You want the rest of it? It’s all I’ve got left! Take it! It’s yours! It’s what you wanted all along, isn’t it? Take it!“ She holds out a rag tied together at the end. It’s made out of what used to be an American flag. You notice that all of her rags are made out of the same flag. “TAAAAAAAKKE IIIIIIIIT!” “You’d better take it, Ken,” says Tom. The old woman freezes. “The Tarantula! Oh, shit! Still alive! Still here! Then, wait—you, with the beautiful voice, you’re—but we killed you! We killed all of you miserable brats! Give me that back!” She struggles with Ken for the bag. She’s surprisingly strong. Do you hold on? “Let go—you said take it, so I’m taking it!” “If you want it, you’re coming with me!” She starts dragging you into the locker with her. I grab Ken and drag him back towards us. The others do the same. You can see, over the old woman’s shoulder, that the flame has died to an endless expanse of white ash. “Nuclear winter,” I say. “Let go of the bag, bag!” That cracks her up. She loses her grip and falls back into the locker. She cackles all the way into that void of ash until you lose sight of her. Then you feel a wind pulling at you. “Shut the door!” I say. The wind grabs it and shuts it for you. You barely get your hands out of the way in time. After a moment, the hallway returns to normal. Ken, you’ve been left holding the old woman’s bag. “Open it,” says Dan. “No. Not yet. Tonight. My place.” You notice that Tom’s not saying anything. That he’s gone pale and is staring at the locker door. “Tom?” says Martine. “Are you okay?” “She called me the Tarantula,” he says. “Remember when I was talking about my new game? How you play yourself, only as a super-hero? I rolled up my powers last night. Tom Kidder by day...” Mark: “...Tarantula by night.” Me: “I’m out of here. This is too weird. If you want to open that bag, you go right ahead. God knows what that witch put in there that’s so fucking valuable. Later.” I brush the ash off my trenchcoat and turn and run down the stairs. Do you open the bag? Ken says it wouldn’t be right to open it without me. After all, I was there when the witch gave it to us. But he’ll keep it at his place; in the cupboard where he keeps his comics. Martine says we shouldn’t open it at all. We should take it into the forest and bury it. Mark says he couldn’t sleep knowing that it was out there, just waiting for somebody to find it, sometime. Maybe they should just hold onto it for safekeeping. Dan says fuck it—let’s just go out into the woods and open the fucker and see what happens. Rachel says she doesn’t know what to say. Tom agrees that if they do open the bag, they should do it in the woods, and I should be there. “Rachel, you’re Alan’s friend. Maybe you should talk to him.” “No way,” says Rachel. “He’ll just think I’m a spaz or something.” Everyone agrees to that. Finally, Ken says he’ll talk to me—Albertan to Albertan. When do you talk to him?
Copyright © 2007 by Patrick Goddard

Patrick Goddard

The Secret Roses – Episode I

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Ken’s thinking at the dance on Thursday, where they can get some privacy. Alan, do you go to the dance? Yeah, but I turn right around and go home. Ken, you’re SOL. Okay. Ken catches up with me on Friday, after Drama class. “Hey,” he says. “Got a second?” “All the time in the world.” “I just wanted to catch up with you. You know, Albertan to Albertan. How’s Lahr Senior treating you?” “Whatever. I’ll probably only stay the year. See a bit of Europe, then figure out a way to go home and finish school so I can get on with my real life.” “Sounds good. I didn’t see you at the dance last night.” “I didn’t really feel like it. Thursday, that’s a bizarre night for a dance.” “For sure. Listen, we’re all getting together tonight at my place, if you’re interested. You know, maybe we’ll get a movie or something. Just hang out.” “What did you do with the bag?” “Well... We wanted to talk about that. And I mean, you were there, so it’s important to us that you’re there. Before we make any decisions.” “Is it really.” “Look. You kind of saved me. I was, like, hypnotized back there. I almost got sucked into wherever that witch came from. I don’t know how important it is to the others that you’re there, but it’s important to me. I get the feeling that you’re, like, immune to hypnosis. I think we’re gonna need you around to keep our heads clear. I don’t know; that’s just my impression.” “Let me think about it.” What do you do? I go to Ken’s place. Dan says, “Well, look what the cat dragged in.” I say: “Let’s just get this over with. Open the fucking bag.” What, here? Now? “Fuck it. Here. Now. I’ve been thinking about this all week. I went to the dance last night, but it freaked me out. All of you guys, all of these teenagers, dancing and partying like you’re not in the middle of a war zone. As if you’re a normal school. You’re not. You have armed guards at the gate. Your streets don’t have names. You don’t have a name for your sports teams. You don’t have a newspaper or a cafeteria. You get your yearbooks a year late because you have to have them printed in Canada. Okay, that’s just bizarre. Fine. “But then I asked my parents what happens if there is a war? What if the morons actually pushed the button? They told me about something called Operation MAYFLOWER. Do you know about this? They’re supposed to evacuate all of us civilians and dependents. But there’s not gonna be any time—and anyway, where the hell are they going to evacuate us to? Ottawa? That’s the first place they’re gonna nuke. Furthermore, when do they make the decision to evacuate? What time is it now on the Doomsday Clock? Three minutes to midnight? Four? When does the alarm go off? These people are gambling with our lives. With the lives of their own children. Fucking assholes. “But then I thought, okay, that’s pretty harsh. Let’s look at the other side. How would it be possible, under what conditions would they do these things and not be assholes. Why would they drag us to Europe in the middle of a war—and insist that Europe is our classroom? “And then it hit me. Maybe we’re already dead. Maybe it’s like that foundation that takes kids with terminal cancer to Disneyland. Maybe that’s why nothing here has a name. Maybe we’ve been dead all our lives and nothing really matters anymore. “So fuck it. Death would be a vast improvement over living death. Let’s open the bag.”

Copyright © 2007 by Patrick Goddard

Patrick Goddard

The Secret Roses – Episode I

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TO BE CONTINUED

Copyright © 2007 by Patrick Goddard