Chapter 1: The thing behind the garage door

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In the distance, beyond the maples and evergreen pines of the forest surrounding a small, idyllic town, a tall, defunct smokestack dominates and darkens an otherwise picturesque summer day.

There's the smokestack's history — belonging to a now abandoned pulp and paper mill that grossly polluted an adjoining river, impacting local tourism and a neighboring First Nation. There's the mill itself, the scene of a deadly fire decades ago that killed dozens of underpaid migrant workers.

Recently, it was almost used in a movie adaptation of some book called How A Loser Like Me Survived the Zombie Apocalypse, but lead and asbestos testing tanked that economic development venture.

Recently, it was almost used in a movie adaptation of some book called How A Loser Like Me Survived the Zombie Apocalypse, but lead and asbestos testing tanked that economic development venture

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And then there are the 'unseemly' things that happen there, talked about by 'good people' in hushed tones. These aberrant activities occur under cover of darkness and full light alike. The occasional, if half-hearted, raids by the local constabulary do little to impact such proclivities; security cameras are equally useless, consistently vandalized by those drawn to this place for an anonymous release. The only thing that seems to work is horse fly season, and even that's questionable.

On this hot summer day, one that has just the right amount of weight to the air to make adults take afternoon naps while youngsters desperately jump through sprinklers, the smokestack cast its shadow impossibly long and far — over and beyond Nuffim Lake and the cottages surrounding the revitalized shorelines, past the worn downtown that struggles to show some charm with stalls selling local corn, a soda and ice cream shop, and a Salvation Army no one with any pride wants to be seen going in or out of despite attempts to rebrand as a vintage store.

The shadow, as if it has claws that pierce asphalt streets and cement sidewalks, seems to drag itself a little bit further, extending its territory to the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. Mere inches beyond the shadow's reach, one four-year-old Gibbie Allstar rides round and round in circles on his tricycle. He makes sputtering sounds, sending spittle flying from his lips as he holds a '50s-style toy rocket ship above, pretending to make it fly.

Gibbie's tricycle is unabashedly bright pink with rainbow tassels hanging from the handles while purple unicorns adorn the tires' rims. Between that and his science-fiction make-believe, Gibbie is the poster child for whimsical joy – until he wheels part way into the shadow. He stops, lowers the rocket ship, and slowly turns his gaze toward the silent garage door of a modest two-story home.

He cocks his head as if listening from the sparkly cat ears nestled within the nest of his orange-dyed hair. The door rattles, making him start. It rattles louder, shaking and shuddering. Something bangs into it from the other side, as if trapped – and determined to get out.

Gibbie's breathing grows shallow. What lies beyond? A DNA-spliced dino? Frankenbot? Killer clown?

 What lies beyond? A DNA-spliced dino? Frankenbot? Killer clown?

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 Out of flight or fight, Gibbie chooses to freeze. The door rumbles more fiercely and, unable to contain the thing within starts to open, grinding on rusty rollers and an ungreased chain.

A flickering light seeps out from the growing opening, backlighting a figure. The figure rolls forward on his squeaky bike. Forget double-feature horror shows; it's Gibbie's older brother, eight-year-old Troy Allstar.

To any adult, Troy's some gawky white kid with an oversized head on a scrawny neck that matches the rest of his frame – spindly arms, knobby knees, sunken chest, lost in the trenches of an oversized t-shirt with a cartoon surfer 'hanging ten,' and baggy cargo shorts that are perfect for storing chocolate bars and action figures.

Gibbie gazes at his older brother with the special form of worship unique to younger siblings. Troy might as well be a celestial being surrounded by a halo ready to fight all manner of creatures.

 Troy might as well be a celestial being surrounded by a halo ready to fight all manner of creatures

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Behind him, an old bench press and weights bought by their dad during a well-intentioned and short-lived New Year's resolution is covered in dust that reeks of buyer's remorse.

Troy's as oblivious to the defunct exercise equipment as he is to his younger brother. Troy tightens the straps of his bike helmet and backpack, "revs" his mountain bike's handlebars, and grandiosely declares to the universe, "Chores are done; grounding is over; last day of summer break, here I come!"

Grinning, Troy speeds past his little brother.

"Wait for me!" Gibbie cries.

The four-year-old tries to peddle after his big bro, but it's futile. Gibbie is left behind, alone, in the shadow cast by the smokestack of the defunct pulp and paper mill.

As the sun rises higher, entering mid-day, the shadow recedes, leaving Gibbie behind as if turning mid-hunt to stalk the more promising prey cycling away.

Star and favorite to support the author (intro video below!) and be sure to check out Chapter 2 as Troy gets too close to the smokestack's shadow and discovers the physique magazine that will forever change his life:

Star and favorite to support the author (intro video below!) and be sure to check out Chapter 2 as Troy gets too close to the smokestack's shadow and discovers the physique magazine that will forever change his life:

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