Chapter 1 – Blue Cottage

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Cassette 1 Entry 1

I got canned yesterday. Shown the door. Fired. My god damn temper got me fired. Here’s what happened. My boss wanted me to cover a story at the zoo. I hate doing zoo stories….

“Carter! Get your scrawny ass in here.” he bellowed.

I hustled my buns into the office of my fire-breathing boss. He sat behind a rather imposing metal desk that was covered in dents. It was the color of a battleship. I had seen lots of other metal desks, all very similar, during my life but never one with so many dents in it. He had a bad temper and often took out his displeasure on the desk. As I entered his office he held up an assignment note. Buddha, his office nickname, sat behind his desk holding the note. Little did I know he was also holding my fate.

“What the hell am I holding in my hand?” he barked.

“It looks like an assignment note”.

“Good guess, but you’re wrong. It’s an order from your superior. And that’s me! Think of it as a commandment from on high. Now read aloud what it says”.

“I already know what it says”.

“Pretend I can’t find my damn reading glasses and I love to hear your melodic voice. Take a deep breath and tell me what the note says”.

There was a voice in my head telling me I was in deep doo-doo. Neck deep.

“The assignment note says to cover the polar bear story at the zoo at 2:30 PM”.

“And what time is it now?” he growled.

“It’s 3:07 PM,” I said after glancing at my watch.

He stood up, walked around his desk, and kicked the side of his desk. Out in the newsroom, a scorecard held the total number of kicks the desk got that particular day. This morning the score was 17. The card numbered 18 soon took its place.

“Then why the hell are you here!?” he roared.

“You know I hate puff pieces about the zoo. I want to do hard news. There’s a juicy scandal brewing at city hall and I just know-”.

“Really? You’re really going with that old chestnut? It sounds like something you read in an old Superman comic when you were a kid. I don’t think you grasp the seriousness of what you’ve done. Now sit down!”.

“If I’m sitting on an angle it’s because the battle-axe that owns this station just chewed my ass off. And just in case you’re wondering if she was in a good mood the answer is no! She just got a call from the mayors’ office demanding I fire you!”

“And you…”

He walked over to the front of his desk and sat on the edge which is never a good sign. Praise usually came from a seated position. If you’re about to be handed your head he liked to be up close and personal. He crossed his arms and scowled.

“Listen up. Me boss. You’re an employee. So listen up! You’ve been escorted out of city hall for the last time. They’ve rescinded your press credentials and are adamant about never ever reinstating them. And City Hall security has standing orders to detain you should you ever go back, for any reason. You can’t go back to even use the ladies room. Putting the mayor in a headlock because she wouldn’t answer your question was a piece of classic stupidity. Your reputation has poisoned two other popular venues for news. The provincial government and those boneheaded Feds have heard about your little stunt with the mayor and are in the process of banning you from all government buildings as well as retracting your media credentials”.

I was hoping he’d stop. I already knew my career was pretty well over.

“Does the story stop there you ask? Not a chance. To make matters worse the story went international! Your name is in almost every newspaper, news broadcast, and radio broadcast in the western world. With pictures! You make fights in Taiwan’s parliament look tame. Now I have to send that twerp with oily hair and peach fuzz in your place. I could and should fire you. But you’re the best radio reporter I’ve seen in a long time.”

He started letting his humanity show so he closed the door to his office so those in the newsroom wouldn’t see him. Plus he wanted to keep his “meanest son of a bitch in the valley” reputation intact. He returned to his chair, leaned back, and put his hands on top of his head. Then he really surprised me. He started talking to me in soft tones in an almost fatherly manner.

“You’ve got passion, drive, and empathy. A combination that rarely comes along. In the news business, you’re what’s called a triple threat. But your god damn temper keeps getting in the way.”

“I doubt you’re aware of this but your actions have put me in a really awkward position. The owner of the station wants you fired. Today. But I’m not going to do that. You’re just too god damn good to cut loose so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to put you on indefinite suspension until you reign in whatever is pissing you off. You’re still an employee of station CKMT. I’ll square that with the owner. I’ll tell the old battle-axe you’re indispensable or something. I’m not quite sure how I’ll do it but I’ll do it. But I’m not doing you any favors. “Indefinite suspension” is radio journalism’s little purgatory. It means no pay, no health benefits, no “perks” of any kind that usually go with the profession. Zilch. Worst of all is you can’t write for any other news station or news medium, and anything you do write, anything at all, is the property of the station. That means if you decide to write a book the station gets a chunk of the profits. My advice to you is to get outta the city and cast out your demons. Where you go is your own god damn business, but when you come back that chip better be off your shoulder. If it’s still there your ass is grass and your career will be over. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal. Get out of town and get your shit together”.

“Get a box and clear out your desk before I have to call building security”.

***

When I got home I put the box on the kitchen table. After that, I walked over to the sofa and sat down. I started crying, and for a few hours, that’s all I did.

An aunt of mine left me her cottage in her will. I’ve only been there once and that was twenty years ago when I was ten. My aunts’ lawyer emailed me the instructions on how to get to Blue Cottage. So the following morning I loaded up my car with a few essentials and took off. Driving outside the city was a new experience for me so, per instructions, I headed straight for Highway 35. One thing puzzled me. Why did my aunt leave the cottage to me? Blue Cottage was located on Shadow Lake which was well inside the boundaries of the Kawartha Highlands. The lake itself wasn’t very deep. It was only about three hundred feet deep. The lake was carved out of Kawartha bedrock by a glacier during the ice age. Bedrock littered the sides of Highway 35. Some chunks were a couple stories high and looked grayish-orange in full daylight. I found driving just inches from these behemoths of bedrock very unnerving. Some of the towns, like Lindsay and Rosedale, had an almost rustic charm to them while others, like Coboconk, Norland, and Miners Bay had an air of mystery to them. As I entered Norland I saw the local A & P store on my left. Following the directions, I turned east on to Highway 45 (also known as Monck Rd.) and crossed over an old one-lane metal Bailey Bridge. It made more noise than the waterfalls just a few feet away. Once I was past the bridge the directions told me to drive for five miles till I spotted a green sign with white lettering on my right marked “Buller Road”. I turned off the road that led to Norland and drove along the dirt road that was Buller Road. There were incredibly large pastures with only a few cows in them. But where there are cows are bulls. And I soon encountered one munching on some grass in the middle of the road. And he had no intention of letting me pass till he was good and ready. After waiting a good half hour, and honking my horn a few dozen times the brute moved back into the pasture. Bossy had been blocking a sign that said “Shadow Lake Cottages”. I turned onto a one lane road. It must have rained recently as the sandy road was dark orange in spots. It was obvious the road was not well maintained as my little car bounced all over. It was only one mile to a fork in the road that held three sign posts. The signs nailed to the posts denoted who owned what cottage and which road to take. I scanned the posts looking for the name Carter. No luck. But I did find a sign that said “Blue Cottage”. I turned left in the direction of the sign. Blue Cottage was only about a hundred yards from the fork in the road but driving down that road felt like a hundred miles. I passed the Stitt’s driveway then the Patterson’s. Those names I remembered. Then came a surprise. The Dore family should have been next but I guess they sold to the Christopher family for they were next. But right after those driveways was the driveway to Blue Cottage. I remembered there was a steep incline with a dilapidated old shed at the top. I really don’t know why, but the old shed, which should have fallen apart since I saw it last, was still standing. Just past the shed was where a mammoth septic tank was buried. The area looked like a small cemetery. I parked the car close to the cottage. I climbed on top of Canadian shield bedrock and saw the platform that held the tent I slept in when I was a kid. During my first and only visit, I wanted to sleep in a tent. My aunt convinced my mother that I could sleep in the tent but assured her I wouldn’t be there all night. Mosquitoes buzzed like jets and made getting any sleep next to impossible. I scrambled off the bedrock and on to the porch that led to the front door. The door was actually at the side of the cottage. After inserting and turning the key I turned the door handle and pushed the door open. It had been five years since my aunt passed away and Blue Cottage became my property. When I learned I now had a cottage I contemplated selling it. The cottage had been a bit of a money pit for my aunt, and I just didn’t have the money to maintain it. For some reason, one I couldn’t fathom, I felt like an intruder. And a little silly one too. Mostly because I was walking through something I owned. The kitchen looked dated and was laid out in a manner I wouldn’t have chosen. I could keep it as is or sell the cottage. The kitchen had very little dust in it considering this was the first time in five years anybody had been in it. As I walked over to the couch the living room area felt much smaller to me. Again there was very little dust. The fireplace still looked enormous to me. The mantle held a number of books which I could easily get to. When I was ten I always had to get a chair to stand on. Besides the books were a couple of topographical maps of the area and beside them was a note from our family lawyer:

Dear Cassandra,

Welcome to Blue Cottage! Your aunt left a VHS tape for you to watch. The TV still works and is connected to an old Video Cassette Recorder. In accordance with her wishes, I’m to ask you to watch it first before making any changes. Afterward, you’re free to move in or sell the cottage should you see fit. If you do I hope you’ll tell me so I could help you with the sale.

Sincerely

Jason Langtree

The note was dated one year after my aunt passed away. I went over to the TV and turned it on. Then I turned on the power button on the VCR. Power surged through its insides for the first time in five years. I picked up a video cassette beside the TV marked “For Cassie” and inserted the cassette. I sat on the couch. After a few moments, an image appeared on the TV screen. It was my aunt.

Welcome back to Blue Cottage Cassie. Since you’re watching this tape it’s safe to assume a number of things. 1) That blasted ulcer got me. And 2) You’re now the owner of Blue Cottage. You don’t have to worry about dealing with the septic tank. I had it inspected and drained last year. So it’s good for another twenty years. Mr. Webb still lives next door. And yes, he’s still mowing the rocks. That was an interesting and entertaining observation you made about him. Out of the mouth of babes. The Dore family sold to a couple called Christopher. The Mrs. made tracks shortly after they bought the cottage. The rumor mill has says it had to do with an illness in the family. So Mr. Christopher is there all by himself. Go over and introduce yourself. He doesn’t bite.”

“Mr. Patterson still has that speedboat he built when you were a child. Its that sleek white boat with a 1964 Cadillac engine in it. He calls it “The Old Carp Chaser”. He never got the engine going properly and after going a day or so the engine would blow. Whenever that happened I usually had to tow him in with my Johnson five and a half horsepower boat. That engine is from 1956 but is the envy of most boat owners. Most engines made today are made from lightweight materials and constantly need repair. I usually take the engine into town once at the beginning of the season for a checkup. That job is now yours. The guy you want to look after the engine is Eric the pirate. Eric got the nickname because of the prices he charged. Eric is now retired and helps out at the hardware store in Coboconk. His son Eric Jr. runs the family business. He’s single so if you use some of your womanly charms on him I’m sure you’ll be able to keep the prices in line. Eric Jr. isn’t as sharp as his dad when it comes to older engines and sometimes calls in his dad for a consultation. So if a repair price is outrageous that’s probably the reason. The last time you were here you didn’t need a license to drive a boat. Now you do. The hardware store in Coboconk will have all the info you need to get a license.

Gold Rock is the name of the place where you can get gas for the engine. There is a small grocery store there too. If they still have them try a Blackball. They’re Licorice. They taste great but make your tongue as black as pitch. I marked where Gold Rock is on one of the maps I keep on the mantle. Gold Rock is a godsend if you only need a few things. And its a lot cheaper than going into Norland or Coboconk with your car. One last thing. Mr. Christopher’s full name is Peter James Christopher. I suspect that name will mean something to you. Sure surprised the hell out of me when I found out. No sign of the Mrs. as of yesterday so he may be back on the market.

I suppose you’re wondering why I wanted you to have to have Blue Cottage. The first time you came up here you showed a special appreciation for the cottage. You were like me. You were able to see past what this place was, and what it could be. It brought me many years of enjoyment and I hope it does the same for you. It was a place to escape to, to think about your troubles, to relax. City life is too frantic. It’s more laid back here. Instead of being assaulted by everyday life you can live one day at a time up here. When I had the cottage built I had it winterized too. So if you want to come up here in the winter you can. But you should know that you’ll need a Ski-Doo for that. I had a Ski-Doo for a few years and made the beach into an area where I could park it. There is a small path near the property line that leads to the beach. But you’ll have to decide if you want to tangle with Blue Cottage in the winter. One other thing. Blue Cottage isn’t simply a place to go to. It’s an entity all to itself. Learn from it as I have. It’ll teach you things about living, teach you things you didn’t know, and refine aspects of your life you thought you already knew. Gotta go Cassie. Stop by for a chat. You’ll know where I am. See ya”.

With that, the tape came to an end. And so did my aunt apparently. She passed away a few days after making this tape. Her lawyer, Mr. Langtree, was against her making a taped will. A taped will could be monkeyed with. And portions of it could degrade over time and the true meaning of someone’s wishes might never be fully understood. After a real battle, they eventually came to a compromise. The will portion would be written, and the part for me would be taped. I’m glad she insisted on taping my portion. With both of my parents gone she was the only family I had left. But with a videotape, I can watch her any time I want.

******

There was something about Blue Cottage that attracted me to it. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s something like magnetism. I can’t put a name to it but something wanted me to be there, and to a certain degree I needed to be there.

I did a quick dusting. Dust and I are old enemies. I just can’t stand it. Afterward, I found myself walking outside checking out my new digs, past the picnic table, and to the far side of the guest house. During my walk, I encountered a rather unique planter my aunt told me about. It was an old wooden boat, built sometime in the thirties. According to her, she found it in the guest house when she first bought the property. It was useless as a boat as it had far too many holes in it. She hauled it to its current resting place and gave her the name “S.S.”. My aunt told me when I was a little girl the name stood for “She Sinks”. I walked along the driveway, and over the lawn. I wanted to check out my new neighbors. But I was a reporter first. And a good reporter researches any potential story. I didn’t have access to the vast computerized library of the station. So I had to do things differently. I got my trusty old laptop out and started to dig. Again, curiosity got the better of me and I tried to see if my password would still work. I burrowed into the vast computer network of CKMT. But I was stopped dead in my tracks. As soon as I logged in with my name and password a great big “x” appeared on the screen. A message appeared. “The owner of this password is on indefinite suspension”. Then a personal message just for me appeared. “Remember, I said “no perks”. That includes computer access. Cool your jets and relax Cassie.” Nuts.  The screen then went blank. Buddha would probably be notified by the geeks in IT that I tried to break in. Wikipedia told me precious little about the area and the people. The next day I got in the car and drove into town to the greatest source of gossip any town can have: the grocery store. In this case, it would the A & P in Norland.

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