All posts by Sandy

Rick’s Veggie Chili

1 onion
1 green pepper
2 celery
2 bok choy
4 to 5 garlic cloves
1/8 cup chilies
1 cup black beans
2 cups kidney beans
1 pack Yves Mexican Veggie Ground Round
1 can chili-flavoured tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
1 to 2 tsp chili powder (optional)
1 to 2 tsp cumin (optional)
1 tsp chipotle powder (optional)

Chop onion, green pepper, celery, chilies. Mince garlic. Combine, cover and simmer for several hours. Add water if too dry.

Sandy’s Pumpkin Pie

A sure sign of fall in our house. Sandy’s pumpkin pie is well-loved and disappears fast.

2 cups puréed pumpkin
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz/370 ml)
1 9-inch pie shell

Preheat oven to 425F.
Mix ingredients in order given.
Pour into pie shell.
Bake 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350F.
Continue baking for 45 minutes or until knife inserted near the centre comes out clean.
Cool completely.

Apologies by Sandy Schumann

Apologies

By Sandy Schumann

The door buzzer grated loudly. It competed with a loud rockabilly tune for the attention of the distracted clerk in the tiny, brightly-lit store. The lone clerk of Rob’s CD Trades this evening was perched at the back on a high stool behind a glass case filled with the high-end merchandise, locked away from shoplifters and greasy fingered customers. A newspaper was spread out across the counter, carefully unfolded and pinned under her elbows. An over-sized black sweatshirt enveloped her, its skateboard logo faded, and unintelligible to all but the aficionados who sailed by the store on a regular basis. Her hair was buzzed down along the sides to show pale skin through spiky brown hair. To the unfamiliar eye, it would seem a young boy was left to guard the racks, rather than a 22-year-old woman.

An older woman stood at the entrance of the store, glancing nervously at the clerk – she seemed apologetic about her noisy entrance. Clara took in the pursed lips, the slightly frumpy coat, and sighed. This woman was definitely out of place and was probably looking for CDs for her grandkid. She would have to point out the language warning label-there was trouble last fall with an irate, and apparently illiterate, parent.

Clara looked down at the Cars For Sale ads. A couple cars had caught her eye, and she circled them neatly with a black felt, heavy enough to be noticed, but not ruin the paper for the owner, Rob. On his days off, he had his staff keep the paper intact, right down to the cheesy flyers, so he could read it on his next shift. She was only slightly surprised he didn’t have them keep the thin blue plastic wrap it came in. The staff joked about it-they suspected everything from intelligence agencies to secret messages from aliens.

She had met Rob in university and they became casual coffee acquaintances, usually one of them tagged along with her crowd or his. She had been doggedly working through a degree in Chemistry, while he mastered in Business. One pale winter morning she had woken up, knowing she was not going to complete her degree, or even finish out the semester. She had been unable to explain her sudden decision to her parents, and had offered only weak apologies. At the time, it was the right thing to do, but looking back now… Clara couldn’t explain her decision. Every time she went over to her parents she always found herself saying her goodbyes at the door mixed in with several versions of ‘I’m sorry’. And they always said they understood, nodding sagely, then murmured quietly about picking up the last couple of credits when she felt she could handle school again. Clara’s future was still unspoiled in their minds-it was a source of repressed irritation to her when she knew she could barely cope with the present. A few hours at Rob’s store added to the meager cashier wages she made at the pharmacy across the street. Used CDs for chris’sake! It seemed funny when Rob had announced his business plan in the coffee shop, much to the delight of his friends who thought he was joking, but now it was keeping her in her own space. Well, there were three other girls in the house, but one day she hoped to rent a place of her own.

Blue Taurus. Nice. Private sale though. The felt pen carefully circled another ad, while its fumes tickled her nose. Claire stood in the aisle, patting down her hair in a vague manner. It wasn’t windy outside but the motion gave her time to collect herself. She was never sure what to expect from this… place. It was too bright, too rude for her, scaring her off with its loud, noisy climate. Lord knows why Rob set himself up here. Now if Randal was still here, she knew that Rob would be working for a better company, not scraping by in this place. The clerks were rude too – she’d been in here almost four minutes without a glance from him. Or her. She had only been in Rob’s store a couple of times, and the tattooed and pierced staff made her intensely aware that she was painfully distanced from her son and this foreign land of pale scruffy youths with their harsh language and attitudes. She glanced over at the A rack beside her, and turned away, embarrassed by band names.

"Are you looking for anything in particular?" The clerk asked her, remaining perched on the stool. The voice nudged a decision into positive female identification.

"Well…" Claire hesitated. There was so much space between them. It was uncomfortable having a 15-foot conversation. She moved forward, almost up to G. "I would like to speak with Rob. If he’s in." She hoped Rob was in, and feeling silly having to come in here. She had been window-shopping and splurged on a beautiful scarf brooch, just right for her silk pink. It had been Randal’s favourite-she had been wearing it a lot since he died. The purchase took all of her cash; she barely had a dollar left and her car was in the parkade, waiting faithfully for her to return and pay its bail. The ATM and VISA cards in her wallet were rarely used. The banking machine across the street was ignored. The machine flustered her-she had already had a machine eat her card twice due to code mistakes. The visits to the bank had been mortifying, and the condescending teller who had given her new cards had tried to coach her through a mock transaction. It was humiliating to be defeated by technology. There were too many decisions, and all had to be made too quickly for Claire. The sighs and clucks of those impatiently waiting behind her added to her anxiety, and she usually ended up canceling her transaction and scurrying away. She hoped to borrow a few dollars from her son this evening, avoiding the dreaded machine altogether.

"I’m sorry. He’s gone for the evening. Is there something I could help you with?…" Clara’s curiosity was piqued.

"I’m his mother – I mean, I – it was something personal, that’s all."

"I’ll let him know you were here, if he happens to phone."

"Thank you… um?" Claire took a few more steps forward. She was now standing in the O section.

"Clara."

Claire beamed at her. A sudden kinship at the coincidence thawed her nervousness. "That’s a pretty name."

"It’s a dumb name. My friends call me C.J. but Rob wants a name, not initials on our tags… Mine’s around here somewhere." Clara paused to search through a pile of magazines by the cash register. "I was named after my great-aunt who giggled like a school girl into her seventies-thought she was charming, I guess. She didn’t have a clue how to run her own life. Every time I hear the name, I think of a silly old woman."

"Ah, can’t find it. Must be in the back." Clara picked up the felt pen and a scratch pad. "Do you have a number you want to leave? Cell phone?"

Claire thought of the unwrapped box back at the house. She had left the phone in the plastic wrap-it had been last year’s birthday present. She had sat there feeling her children had betrayed her with this gift of intimidation. Failure overwhelmed her, and she saw herself as Rob did-as this young woman did.

"I’m sorry," said Claire automatically, her shoulders sagging with the weight of years left to live. "I’m very sorry." She turned and left the store, the buzzer jeering as she left.

Nemesis by Sandy Schumann

Nemesis

By Sandy Schumann

Tito was struggling with the cigarette package. Maybe it was the half bottle of cheap scotch flowing through his veins or the adrenalin racing through him, but his fingers had been trembling from the moment he sat down in the dark and abandoned warehouse office.

The cigarettes were not his brand; he had found them tucked away inside the black jacket he wore. The package looked Turkish or something eastern, and with that knowledge, he had abandoned hope that they were filtered. The cigarettes were skinny brown sticks with an exotic spicy scent and gold ribbons. He coaxed one out, almost tipping out the entire set in the process, then tossed the package onto the dusty desk in front of him. It landed beside the open bottle of scotch, where most of the cigarettes spilled out and continued their journey with the bottle cap onto the dusty floor.

Tito paused, cigarette suspended under his nose, and glared at the desk in front of him and the thing that lay on it, and then cautiously continued his search for a match. He was sure there must be matches in the pockets somewhere to go with the cigarettes. The black jacket fit nicely across his lean shoulders; the black pants were too short but they were in better shape than his own clothes. He’d ditched the white clerical collar after his visit to the library, of course, though he’d been tempted to keep it for future entertainment.

The matches turned up in a pants pocket, but they slipped from his shaking fingers and skittered under the shelter of the old desk. He stooped down, peering under his chair, his feet, then the huge desk. Tito sighed, then scrunched his small, lean frame under the desk and began groping about the floor with his long sharp nails. It was a very old and solid desk, and barely made more than a muffled thump as the back of his head connected sharply with the bottom of the drawer as he retrieved the matches. The curses following this discovery blistered off the top layer of the dusty linoleum between his feet, igniting a few dust bunnies. The rest of the dust colony, hidden behind a desk foot, wisely migrated across the deserted floor to seek the protection of a filing cabinet.

The matches slipped out of his fingers in the brief blaze, falling out of sight again under the now-despised desk. The sulfur strike was important-it generally set the mood for Tito, but at this moment, with his eyes tearing from the bump on the back of his shaved head, a lighter seemed more efficient. His eyes glowed red with pain and frustration, as he once more bent carefully below the desk to retrieve the fugitive matches.

It was the book, of course. Every time he ran into it, something like this happened. He had been minding his own business when he first met his nemesis: his was the business of misspelled words, torn paper and flawed vellum, draughts of wind that stole precious gold leaf, spilled paint and careless candles. The book was striking, in that gaudy Christian style the monks preferred: embellishing everything with gold leaf until it became illegible. The smooth leather binding was nicely decorated, and the polished gems expensive, with a slightly kitschy air. The act of its creation had all the ingredients he usually required to make things go wrong: untrained apprentices, arrogant monks, status craving bishops, and an isolated monastery… It should have been an easy job. Oh sure, he’d heard Cuthbert of Lindisfarne was a saint but how was he supposed to have known? They said that about everyone who was a bishop in the ninth century.

He was Titivillus then, a terrible demon unleashed upon mankind who used their own words and actions against them in the final tally. The glories of church and scribe were his field of play: distracting weary monks with moments of stolen sleep, or apprentice scribes with warm summer breezes floating through narrow stone windows. Tito had been in his prime, his status downwardly mobile and heading into the inner circles of Hell, his name on the lips of all the worst people. Then he had taken the Lindisfarne job. To everyone’s amazement and amusement, he had botched it. Completely. It had been as humiliating as the Kells job what’s his name had screwed up. No one remembered that demon either.

Once he realized the monks were going to finish the book, Tito enlisted the help of a few dozen rowdy Danes. He’d had to bribe the Danes to ransack the monastary (can you believe it – what else did they do?) as they had been in a hurry to go home after weeks of looting the coast of Eire in heavy seas. While the Danes were causing panic in the monastery, he had walked down to the beach, and uncaulked a few seams in the monks’ boats…

Blessed thing had washed back up! The surviving monks had cleaned it up easily enough, and the gaudy folio had survived almost completely unscathed. The monks had taken it as a sign (it was, and a demon knew a challenge when it hit him square in the nose), and left Lindisfarne to wander over Eire and England for the next hundred years. It had been a very frustrating century. In hindsight he should have let it go, cut his losses, and moved on to the next job. Tito never imagined that a ragged group of monks could be so hard to trip up: a fire at the Abbey, a sudden mudslide in the hills, a precocious thief of much skill and few morals all failed in the attempts to reduce the greatest treasure of Lindisfarne to coloured kindling.

Mocked by his own, and then worst of all, by the humans he had spent years tormenting, he’d been reduced to lurking in the churches as the old fear was gone, replaced by derisive laughter. He had the chance to be down there, ranked with the worst lords of Hell, living the bad life, but his dreams faded into obscurity along with his name. His job these days consisted of trying to keep up with tag artists who decorated churches and graveyards with their unappreciated talents. They weren’t intimidated either-their lack of faith made them almost invincible to any of his powers. Tito had learned quickly that reciting the horrors of hell awaiting them generally got his head kicked in by older vandals. The younger kids merely avoided him, thinking he was an escaped mental patient.

Today was different. Today was Tito’s turn for revenge. He glanced around the dark office, inhaling the stale perfume of abandonment, while reveling in his victory. The old warehouse had caught his attention last week when he was chasing down a vandal named sklood (or whatever it was he scribbled on walls). He had paused in his chase, looked up at five stories of dust, shattered glass, moldy plaster, and asbestos, and thought it would be a fine place for a bonfire. All he needed was the kindling.

A box sat on the desk inches from his sharp grasp, the lid askew and contents revealed: the Lindisfarne Gospels. No monks stood to guard it, no abbey sheltered it, no uptight British Library curator blocked his access – it was finally his. The librarian had barely glanced at his identification this morning, the white clerical collar cementing his credibility over a piece of paper. The switch had been easy; he still had a few tricks up his sleeve, though the shopping bag from Marks and Spencer and oven mitts had helped. He couldn’t touch it bare handed without searing pain, and to be sure, the mitts were slightly scorched, but it was here. The final scene of his long awaited revenge was here and now.

Tito smiled happily. He had a little time to gloat, and then he was going to rob the British Library of one of its greatest treasures. Carefully he struck a match, inhaling its sharp stench as it flared, then cupped his hands around the cigarette and inhaled gently. He carelessly flicked the match away, and held the dark cigarette between the tips of his fingernails, his hand curving around the glowing tip. He could feel the burning heat on his palm, just a whisker away from his skin, while the faint light illuminated his face and tendrils of smoke wafted upwards. Tito suddenly felt nostalgic for the bad old days and wondered if times were changing again. Modern manifestations of faith tended to be either electronic or diminutive: television evangelists interrupted every ten minutes by commercials for luxury items to covet, and the Lord’s Prayer being engraved on grains of rice. He supposed mankind’s faith might not have diminished, but it was getting condensed. Both avenues were easy to deal with-technology was never intended to be divine, and the rice looked like all the others after five minutes with Uncle Ben. Yes, life was getting easier for demons as the centuries rolled by.

Tito stood up, a spike toothed grin spreading across his face as he blew smoke across the book’s cover. He picked up the bottle of scotch and began soaking the cover, the desk, and the floor then smashed the bottle against the wall. The dust bunnies behind the cabinet quivered. Tito took a deep breath and pulled out the matches, keeping a firm grip on the cover. He struck each match, watching them burn for a second, and flung them around the desk. Smoke rose up, filling the office. Tito inhaled deeply, grin still in place, walked to the doorway and turned around to survey the damage. The fire was licking around the edges of the desk, some of it chasing up the legs to reach the top while other flames raced across the floor. The Marks and Spencer bag was already melting at the edges. Tito closed the door and walked down the three flights of stairs, giggling madly to himself. He had already decided to watch the warehouse burn from the pub across the street; the few pints he could afford would make it a most perfect end to a job well done. Titivillus was back.

*********************

Two days later the Vatican and the British Library jointly released a statement on the recovery of the Linidsfarne Gospels. The local Fire Chief was quoted as saying that the serious deterioration of the abandoned warehouse structure had caused it to collapse upon itself like a house of cards, extinguishing most of the flames by the time the fire department had arrived on the scene. Arson investigators had found the book later that night, slightly smoke damaged and covered in dust, under a metal filing cabinet. An arrest had been made, but the name was being withheld until psychiatric observations could be completed.

The Vatican called it a miracle.