Haines Junction

David Thompson

Joshua Waldo Lake Shackelton, born in New Mexico in 1946, could never ignore the call of the wild. In 1964, spared from the draft, he slips up the coast as far as the tip of Vancouver Island before moving inland. Wending his way through BC’s inlets and coastal mountains, Joshua discovers the nature of solitude; in the ports and villages, he discovers community.

Finally he reaches Haines Junction, in the Yukon Territory, where the Haines and Alaska highways meet. It is here that he discovers friendship (and gold). Miners catch gold fever, political conspiracies come to light and Joshua and his friends encounter the mystical and the mundane. When he finds himself at the centre of a mystery that includes the wreck of a military DC-3, a raft constructed by an ancient order of Japanese monks, and the wolfbear of Aleut myth, Joshua must work to unravel the threads and protect his friends from their own harebrained schemes. Suspenseful and warmly funny, Haines Junction is a tale of adventure and domesticity, loyalty and betrayal, and the laws of the Yukon.

Roswell

My name is Joshua Waldo Lake Shackelton. I was born after the Great War in 1946 in New Mexico in a small town called Artesia, south of Roswell, the world-famous site of alien research. Artesia was named after the artesian wells that once irrigated the thirsty peach orchards until they were pumped dry in the 1920s.

My friend Greg and I were adventurers. The desert and hills were ours to explore, and our imaginations carried us wherever we wanted to go. I loved the outdoors.

We built a fort about a mile from our homes out of construction salvage. With my dad’s binoculars we scanned the desert for signs of aliens and wildlife.

Greg stood on a small rise, his thin arms poking out of his striped T-shirt and his skinny legs sticking out of baggy short pants. Holding the binoculars tightly to his eyes, he made the sound of a radio. “Aaawk, Gila Monster One to Gila Monster Two. Armadillo preparing for attack. Take evasive action.”

Then we would race across the sand, ray guns in hand, to where the animal was lurking, only to discover it was a clump of bushes.

“Come in, Gila Monster One. This is Gila Monster Two. False alarm, I repeat, false alarm. Return to base. Over and out.”

We would run back to the fort and once again secure it against invasion.

The flying disc recovered by the army’s 509th Bomber Wing in 1947 was known to everyone. We spent days scanning the skies for bright, shiny cigar-shaped objects and theorizing about the life of an alien. Greg asked the questions. I had all the answers.

“Do you think they know algebra?” Greg asked thoughtfully, scratching his brush cut.

“They do square roots in their heads,” I said.

“What if they attack us like in Creature from the Black Lagoon?” Greg shuddered.

We had just seen the movie, and he was still terrified.

“Don’t worry, we can outrun them. They have different gravity on their planet, so their bodies are weaker,” I said. “Charles Atlas could probably take them all on himself.”

“What do you think their planet is called?” Greg asked.

“Zots.”

“I think you’re right.”

With the help of the G.I. Bill, my parents bought a house on the banks of the Pecos River three dusty miles from town. My life in Artesia was unremarkable. My mother stayed home and cared for Dad and me. She came from a large family, and her mother, her sisters and their many kids visited nearly every day. My grandmother couldn’t seem to hug me enough.

“Come here, you little boy, come see your grandmother,” she would say, holding out her arms.

My father was a skilled electrician, and when he was sober, a good father and husband. He had a warm heart, but life got the better of him. He liked to drink and gamble more than anything. He would come home and sway back and forth in the middle of the living room with a smile on his face—he was a happy drunk—and make excuses for losing his paycheque. Apparently he wasn’t a very good gambler, because we never had any money.

“Why don’t you just cash your cheque, stand on the street corner and give the money away?” my mother asked.

Funny thing about Mom. No matter how angry she was, she never raised her voice. Not like Joy and Richard Wallace next door, who fought so the whole neighbourhood could hear them. “Self first and self last, Richard, and if there’s anything left over it’s Richard again,” Joy screamed.

I didn’t like to see Dad drunk or hear my parents argue. I would leave the house and find refuge in the fort; sometimes I would sleep over in it. It was calm and quiet, and I could look to the skies for spaceships.

I was good in school, always the top of the class. Greg and I won first prize at a science fair with our “soybean in a jar” growth display. We wrapped blotting paper around the inside of four wide-mouthed Mason jars and slipped a soybean between the glass and the paper. One bean had water and sunlight, the next water but no sunlight and the third no water and no sunlight. The fourth we painted red and purple, glued coloured thread on it for roots and called it “a bean influenced by an alien spaceship crash site.”

It was a popular display, with the doctored bean getting all the attention. It was easy as pie to convince the younger kids that it really was an alien bean worth a million dollars.

“That’s not true. There is no such thing as an alien bean,” a second-grade boy argued. “There are alien beings but not alien beans.”

“Yes, it is true. Do you know the story about Jack and the beanstalk?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Well, that was an alien bean!”

“Nooo,” he said, and ran off calling for his mother.

In the bottom of a bedroom closet I found a battered cardboard box full of papers, photographs and a flight diary. They were from the glory days when my father flew B-25 Mitchell bombers out of Northern England and rained vengeance and death down upon German men, women and children.

The pages of the diary were written in blue ink from a fountain pen, while the cities bombed were highlighted in red. Baden-Baden, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Hamburg were a few of them. There was also a hand-tinted picture of Dad with a note on the back saying it had been taken before he was shipped overseas. He wore his aircrew hat and uniform. He looked off into the distance with a soft smile on his young face.

On lazy Saturday afternoons Greg and I watched war documentaries on television. I fried a mound of egg sandwiches, and we dipped them in ketchup and washed them down with glasses of cold milk. The grainy black and white movies showed a continuous stream of violence against man, beast and property. When the narrator said, “Dresden was firebombed,” I would respond, “My dad did that.”

I hate to say it, but Greg was impressed with my dad’s bombing.

“Bull’s eye,” he would scream as demolished buildings toppled over into the street in a cloud of dust.

When I had the box out, Dad would happen by and pick up a picture or letter. He would turn them over in his hands, front to back, then toss them back in the box and walk away. Later he would sit in his chair, deep in thought. After a while, he would get up and mutter to himself, “What’s done is done,” and go about his business.

When he went out, my mother would send me along, hoping I would prevent him from going to the bar. It never worked.

“I have to go down to the hardware store to pick up a thingamabob. I’ll be back shortly.”

“Take Waldo with you.”

Mom always called me Waldo.

“Aww, Ma,” I would protest.

I was sentenced to countless hours of waiting in the 1956 Chevrolet convertible while he drank tequila and gambled in Rose’s Cantina. He left the roof down in the warm desert nights, so I lay back and watched the shooting stars whisk across the blue-black sky and over the horizon.

From time to time, my father would bring out a bag of chips and a cold Coke. “Is everything okay here, sport?”

“Sure, Dad, everything is just hunky-dory,” I would say, never complaining, and then slouch down into the seat and play my marble maze games for the hundredth time.

One night, after waiting for a few hours, I slid over into the driver’s seat. The keys were in the ignition, and I thought, “I can drive this thing.”

“Thompson’s given us another fun book full of whimsical narration and quirky characters.” — Dan Davidson, Whitehorse Star