Creative Focus Publishing

HomeBooksWriting CoursesArticlesAbout UsContact Us



2014 © Creative Focus Publishing Links | Terms and Conditions

Chapter 1 – The Journey


How do you save a town? It was a question that had troubled Fred Baxter ever since he had followed in his father’s footsteps and become a young minister himself many years ago. Things had changed so much since then. Back then drinking and drugs weren’t an issue. Sure, there was always the town drunk, and kids might try a sip of champagne at their parent’s garden party, but no one ever got sloshing drunk. And young people had different ideas and goals; they wanted to make something of themselves. As it stood, and much to his dismay, all three of his teenage daughters seemed to be floundering in that area. In the rear-view mirror, he glanced back to see how his two younger daughters were doing.


“Now I want you girls to be on your best behavior at all times,” he announced as he, his wife Phyllis, and two daughters, Tara, 17, and Gillian, 15 were settled in the large older blue Chevy Van and still about two hours away from the pretty lake side town, Steep Rock Cove. So far the trip had gone well, he thought, without incident. The weather had been good up until now, and it looked as if dark clouds were rolling in behind them from the west. But since it was mid June at least he didn’t have to worry about icy roads to add to the many other stresses of making another move to another town. The girls had been pulled out of school two weeks earlier, had finished their exams, and would now enjoy an extra two week summer vacation. But he knew it wouldn’t feel like a holiday. Moving never is.


“Remember, you’re preacher’s kids and people will expect to see you lead an exemplary life. So that means no parties, no worldly involvements, no boyfriends, no low cut tops or dresses, or too-tight blue jeans, hard work and what else do I always tell you that people need to see?”


“A good attitude,” Gillian piped up. But Tara stiffened at her dad’s list of impossible demands, and just kept reading a romance novel she had hidden between the pages of a large black leather-bound King James Bible given to her when she was 10, as a gift for memorizing the first five chapters of the Book of John.


“Tara, are you listening?”


“Yes dad. I heard.” What was the point of saying anything? He wouldn’t listen, and it would just erupt into an ugly argument like every other time she dared disagree or suggest something different.


“Okay, then I won’t expect any trouble from either of you girls.”


Trouble? What possible chance did she have for trouble? He wouldn’t allow any boys her age near her. If she were allowed to go out at all, he would keep an eye on her. Everything revolved around church life, and ministry as he called it – whatever that meant! Would there ever be any escape out of this prison of strictness and demand for perfection that her father continued to impose on her? And as far as trouble went, it was more often Gillian that got into trouble, and it was Tara that tried to protect her, and then would take the blame. But this time around, she would try and keep a much closer eye on her!


Her father had uprooted them yet again from another small town, Mayville, which was further north about 200 miles away. Fred had announced it over dinner one night about six months earlier that they would be moving to a town he had grown up in. Fred’s wife and family had never been there because both his parents had died before he was even married, and he didn’t even know where his older brother Isaiah was and hadn’t seen him for many years. He explained to his family that Steep Rock Cove was part of the Interlake mecca of towns and villages situated sparsely along and around two of the largest in-land lakes in the world. It was the largest of the towns with about 3,000 people and according to her father’s perspective, the perfect location to spread his ministerial wings and help out a struggling church in his hometown, a town that was “rough around the edges,” or As good as moving to the jungles of Africa, as far as reaching the unreached with the Gospel. But Fred was determined to continue his father’s ministry that had been started in this town many years ago and all ended when the church burned to the ground.


Since it was situated beside a vast, beautiful lake, it was both a haven for city dwellers who lived south about two hours away, otherwise known as summer “cottagers,” and also held a long tradition of being the permanent home to many commercial fishermen and their families. The fisherman, busy during the long, hot summer days, far from shore, hauling in several kilograms of walleye, pickerel and even catfish over the season, are a familiar sight at the marina during July and August. They, along with many thousands of yearly tourists, provide the economic base of the small town. Since their work is only seasonal, many of them, along with other local seasonally-employed residents, find comfort and entertainment in the local hotel bars, which also offer pool tables, videos, and gambling slot machines. So along with the economic stability the fishermen offers, comes urban-like problems – alcoholism, gambling, the abuse of recreational drugs and the like. And this is Fred Baxter’s quest, as he explained to the family at the dinner table, to redeem the small town and lure as many converts as possible to the ways of the Lord, and away from the evils of the world.


But Tara cringed at the thought of having to go through moving to a new place, starting another church, and attending a new school, all over again. Nothing could be worse than being a preacher’s kid, she thought, never feeling as if she fits in, and sometimes the other kids her age would shun her thinking they had to watch what they said or did when they were around her. Even though, her dad said it was a privilege to be persecuted by people that don’t know any better, she hated being treated as a religious freak. And when she did try to make new friends, her dad would up and move them again. She wished they would just keep driving and keep on driving until they dropped off the edge of the earth to a place where they wouldn’t have to move ever again. When she was younger, her parents never allowed a TV in the house, so she read books, mostly ones she would read in the library and then later she’d write about mysterious places in her journal. All her stories were about escapes to some beautiful place where everyone was happy, and there were no domineering fathers around to spoil everything. But when she was twelve, her father caught her writing and demanded that she give him her journal. When he read the beginnings of one of her stories, he gave her back her journal and said, What a frivolous waste of time! Is this what they are teaching you to write about in school? A fantasy world devoid of all truth? That was when he had told her to memorize the first five chapters in the Book of John and rewarded her with the leather-bound Bible she currently held on her lap. But she continued to write, only now more about how she felt about things. She made sure to keep her journals well hidden, so no one would ever find them, especially her father. Now she had them packed tightly with her other books in her suitcase, stowed away in the back compartment of the van.


The older rusted red Dodge Caravan lurched and sputtered, sending Seth Foster’s half-eaten hamburger and fries flying to the floor. Darn, I gotta get the engine fixed. He had decided to park in the back of the house close to the garage in case there was no key to get in, and he’d have to get the ladder from the garage which he had left unlocked the day before. He cleaned up his lunch that had fallen to the floor and decided to discard it later when he found the nearest garbage bin. No one would believe to look at the somewhat unkempt, but good looking blonde tousled–haired 20 year old, that his father was well off, being a prominent lawyer owning two beautiful residences, a sprawling one in town right on the lake, and one of the largest ones on Hawk Island. Plus his family owned many other properties, both commercial and rental apartments, in town and in the nearby city.


Seth climbed out of the van, grabbed his toolbox out of the back, and walked around on the sidewalk to the front of the house. He noticed fresh flower beds had colorful impatience planted in front along the long veranda and flower urns had red geraniums sprawling out of them spilling down the side. He climbed the steps onto the veranda of the large older two-story house, hoping he’d find the key to get in the front door. He reached under a large ceramic flower pot for the key and was relieved to find it. He entered the fair sized entrance to the house, and could still smell the fresh paint in the kitchen he had painted off-white the day before. He could see that the movers had already left several boxes in the living room to the right of him along with some furniture. He hoped to finish the last minute repairs of some window shutters upstairs that the wind had blown off a few days before during the storm.


He was climbing through the large window in the master bedroom when he thought he heard the downstairs door open.


“Hello, anyone here?” The question echoed through the large rooms and wafted up the stairs. It was Lucy Jorgenson, the secretary-treasurer of the church, and his rehabilitation counselor who had sort of adopted him while he was in the alcohol and drug-free program, and then hired him to fix up the old place for the new preacher and his family. Staying clean from an addiction to alcohol and drug addiction wasn’t easy, but so far, it was working. He had stayed clean for over three months now, although at times, he was tempted.


“I’m up here.” He was already on the gray-tiled roof and noticed the look of angry dark clouds coming in from the west. He quickly grabbed his screwdriver and began re-attaching the shutter.


“You might as well stop what you’re doing.” Lucy stuck her head out the window.


“Why what’s up?” He noticed the dark clouds moving in.


“I just found out that the Baxters might not be able to move in today.” The robust red-haired, somewhat overweight but pleasant looking middle-aged woman leered out the window.


“What?” He stopped the hammering to look at her.


“How Bill Hatfield ever got to be mayor, I’ll never know. This morning I got a call from the Town Office saying they wanted to see me about the deed for this place. Well I couldn’t find it in any of the church records, and no wonder, since I’ve been working out of that cubby-hole in the community hall ever since the church burned down 30 years ago. Bill himself started looking into this when we were asking for work permits to renovate the bathrooms and kitchen, and found that this manse is still owned by the Arnason family. Eventhough, the place was vacant, Euretta Arnason, who moved to Alberta years ago, still owned it up until her death about two years ago. Her paperwork was in such a shambles, so the executors requested an injunction to delay transfer of the property until they contacted a known living relative. And they just found out this morning that the only known living relative is a cousin, Ollie Arnason, who’s in the senior home suffering from dementia and can hardly remember his own name, let alone that he’s inherited this house. And to find all this out at this late date with the Baxters on their way TODAY and now no place for them to stay!”


“But I thought the church put a down payment on it months ago and bought it from the town who took ownership of it by default when the previous owner moved away and just let the taxes go unpaid for too long.”


“Yes and the mortgage was approved by the bank. In fact, I put up my own house as collateral. We got a great deal on it considering who we’re dealing with, and since the town would like to start collecting on the taxes again.”


The rain was coming down now and, Seth grabbed his tool box and climbed back through the window, now feeling like an intruder in someone else’s home even though he had been working in it for a few months now.


They made their way down the stairs. “I’m going back to the town office to see if there’s some way they can stay here without us getting charged with a trespassing lawsuit and heaven knows what else, and then I’m going to go and see Ollie Arnason and pray that he’s having a good day and see what he knows about it, if anything.”


“Okay. I’ll stay here and fix the inside of that spare bedroom window casing unless you want me to come along for support.”


“No. You stay here. And if all else fails, I guess I can temporarily put them up in my basement.” She closed the door and rushed to her newer navy SUV before she got soaked with rain.


Seth went back upstairs and turned the hall lights on now that the dark clouds gave the appearance of night. How he would have loved to go with Lucy and give Bill Hatfield a piece of his mind. It wouldn’t be the first time either. Bill and his dad, Jordan Foster, were good friends, and the two of them were always scheming together to get what they wanted. Collectively they owned most of the town and often tried to own the people that live in it. They grew up together and went to law school together, but Bill had turned to politics rather than law because he felt that it would give him more power. And now this is what Jordan Foster was pushing Seth to do, live the life of the corporate lawyer with all the financial perks and power that went with it. But Seth had made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with that life since it had only gotten him into trouble, having whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. So his father with the help of Bill, had worked to make sure that Seth never got a good-paying job in the town until he agreed to go to law school. Let his younger brother Tyler, who had just turned 19, fill those shoes instead. And besides, he knew that he was good with his hands and loved designing, building and fixing things. Carpentry was in his blood, he knew. If anything, some day he wanted to be an architect. For now, though, doing these odd jobs and helping Lucy Jorgenson, who had gone out of her way to help him, and who was paying his salary along with whatever extra funds the church could scrounge up, was enough to keep him busy and out of trouble.


Fred glanced at the clock on the dashboard, 1:00 p.m. They were behind schedule by about an hour since he had to stop twice due to the pelting rain and hail that had suddenly come upon them. They should be in Steep Rock Cove in about an hour and a half. He glanced at his delicate 39 year old wife who had drifted off to sleep, tired from all the upset in the move and never really recovering from the many moves they had made since they were married 20 years ago. When he had announced this move six months earlier, she had remained pensive and quiet until later when they were in bed, and the girls were asleep. She always had a way of getting him to look more closely at his true self.


Fred are you running away from something? You seem so restless, never content to stay in one place. You know I’ll always support you and stand behind you whatever you decide, but I worry about the girls. They’re at that age where they need stability.


Run away from something? He wanted to be honest with her and tell her that he was finally running to something and that it would be the last move as far as he was concerned. He would finally put to rest the nightmares that had stalked him and kept him awake at night for these past 30 years. He would find out the truth about that fire that ended his father’s ministry in Steep Rock Cove, and drove his mother to an early grave. And what of his older brother by two years, Isaiah? He hadn’t seen or heard from him since even before the fire. Drinking or anything else sinful or worldly was never allowed by his minster father, yet Isaiah had broken all the rules and his father had kicked him out in his last year of high school. No one had heard even a word from him ever since. He never showed up for their mother’s funeral, and even after their dad passed away three years ago, Fred had to take care of all the arrangements himself.


They passed a sign that said, Steep Rock Cove, 80 kilometers. He heard a stir in the back and looked in the rear-view mirror thinking one of the girls woke up. He caught the beautiful green eyes of Tara.


“Dad, can I drive the rest of the way?” Anything to break this boredom.


“Drive? Are you sure you can handle the hard rain? It’s pretty windy and, harder to steer. Might be a bit slippery. No. I don’t think so. Not this time.”


Tara sighed. Normally he would have let her drive. Driving was the one thing they both shared in common since no one else liked driving. Her mother had a license, but rarely drove and Gillian was too young by a year and wasn’t really interested in driving. And Stephanie, her older 19 year old sister, had already moved away to the city in spite of the fact her dad had forbidden her to even though she had already graduated. She told him, she was going to work part-time somewhere and take night school, so she could become a childcare worker. But her dad had learned that whatever hard-earned money she had talked him into sending to help with tuition costs was all a waste because she had dropped out of school only three months into the first term. The last time she called she said that she had a job in Wallace’s Department Store as a cashier and was sharing an apartment with another girl who worked there. But Tara knew differently. She was a cocktail waitress in a bar and was living with Terry, a hairdresser she met during her brief time in college. Fred had really hoped she would join him in the ministry, and one day take over in helping to establish new churches in troubled small towns like Steep Rock Cove, towns that needed widespread ministry, such as the kind that Fred felt he could give, he had told her. So Tara was his next prodigy and let her know several times that he wasn’t going to let her also slip away and entertain vain thoughts of her own career and give in to ungodly desires. He was grooming her for the ministry, and Steep Rock Cove was the place she would really begin in earnest.


How could everything have gone so wrong for her? Everything had changed 10 years ago when her little brother Dylan, only two, had accidentally died. She was seven. Everyone loved Dylan. He was the hoped-for son that was going to follow in is daddy’s footsteps and become a minister. And it was all her fault, not watching how high she was pushing him on the swing in the backyard. When he fell, he went unconscious and died a few hours later. She never got over the shock of it, and unfortunately, neither did her father, and especially her mother. A painful subject, no one talked about, it had broken up the once-closeness of her family. She was sure Stephanie blamed herself too, since she was supposed to be the one looking after Dylan, but she had run off to the neighbours to see their new puppy and asked Tara to watch him instead. And Phyllis took the guilt the hardest of all. She had run an errand uptown to buy some lard for some apple pies she was making for the Ladies Auxiliary baking sale for the church. And it was after this that her father had started to move them around a lot, town to town, working in one church after another, then leaving just as soon as she would start to make friends in the school. Yet in spite of this, her marks were high and she excelled in art and literature. In fact, she loved writing and won every spelling contest in the schools since grade 1. Some day she hoped to be a journalist and travel all over the world, living an exciting life of adventure writing about all her many travels. Like her dad, she was restless, but unlike him, the last thing she wanted to do was live in these small towns and start anew in yet another church.


Lucy Jorgenson sat in a brown leather chair across from Bill Hatfield, who was comfortably seated behind his mahogany desk. She combed back her hair dripping from the rain that had now ceased, and wiped off her wide-rimmed leopard colored eye frames. Stacy Olson quietly opened the door and put a folder on Bill’s desk and then crept out again.


“It’s all in here. The law office of Foster & Associates faxed it to me this morning.” He opened the folder and showed her the deed to the manse.


“There’s nothing I can do.”


“You mean there’s nothing you WILL do.” Lucy could feel the color rise to her cheeks, and tried her hardest to keep calm.


“Look, I can’t re-write the laws. It says right here,” handing her the long white form, “Property of Euretta Arnason until such time as her death, at which time it goes to the living next of kin whomsoever that may be.”


“But they’re going to be here any minute, and we can’t just leave them on the street or living out of their vehicle. Can’t they just stay temporarily until we, or I, find them another place to live until this all gets sorted out?”


“You’re best bet is to check them into my hotel …”


“No offence Bill,” she had called him by his first name since they knew each other so well from the Chamber of Commerce meetings Lucy regularly attended as a town merchant who owned a thriving home-based wellness and vitamin product business, “but I don’t think Fred Baxter would appreciate bringing his family to the Spirit Rock Cove Hotel, Bar & Restaurant and have to listen to loud music and who knows what else into the wee hours of the night. Besides, the church can’t afford to pay your prices for one night, let alone indefinitely.”


“Suit yourself.”


Lucy got into her SUV, the sun now shining, and the air humid, put on her prescription sunglasses, turned on the air conditioning and sped away. The Steep Rock Cove Senior Home was to the east of town, situated close to the lake with a beautiful view of the marina and lake that stretched as far as the eye could see into the horizon. Residents had a large common room on the fourth floor where they held special dinners, movie nights and otherwise provided the town with a place for conferences, art shows, craft shows and so on. Many of the residents were brought up to the fourth floor by the elevator to spend the afternoon watching the sailboats or see fishing boats come in with their catch of the day. The last minister the church had hired would come here to hold brief Sunday afternoon services for the residents. She had hoped Fred Baxter would agree to do this as well. She had met Fred at a province-wide Mission conference in the city. She was really looking to recruit a minister who would be willing to preach out of the community hall until more funds could be raised to buy land and then build a new church, but one that would share the church’s vision of bringing about positive changes in the town. So far every minister they had hired had quit within two years, and she suspected it was more than the reasons they gave. Likely it had to do with a certain group of people in the town that tried to squelch any sign of new life, especially if it had to do with religion and the possibility of them losing patrons of gambling, drinking and drugs. She hoped Fred Baxter would be different and be able to stick things out. She had casually spoken to Fred after hearing one of the conference speakers, and when he found out she was from a place he had once lived and that they were looking for a minister, she was pleased when he jumped at the chance.


By a stroke of good fortune, there was a parking space right in front of the newer senior’s home. She rushed in past the gift shop and tea house, down the gray carpeted hallway to the clean, white floors, and hospital-like smell nursing home, and up to the front desk. The young blond receptionist looked up.


“I’m looking for Ollie Arnason.”


“That way.” The receptionist pointed down the hall towards the dining room where the residents were having their afternoon tea and cookies. When a dietary aide in a pale pink uniform and net on her brown and bleached blonde streaked hair pointed him out to her, she slowly approached his wheel chair where he was sitting alone by a large window staring blankly towards to the lake.

The Redemption of Steep Rock Cove