The Platinum Ticket by David Beynon

The Platinum Ticket by David Beynon
Shortlisted for The Terry Pratchett Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now First Novel Prize

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Caws and Effect

Last time I promised to relate the strange X-File / Fringe moments we encountered in Vancouver.  Oddly enough, both incidents happened at shopping malls.

One day we decided to accompany our friend and her baby daughter to the Oakridge Mall.  We heard really good things about David's Tea and were looking for some decent rain gear for the boy and the missus. Besides, while the others shopped it gave me more opportunity to hang out with the baby and convince her that "Dave" ought to be her first word.

We went into David's Tea. I took a seat at a bistro table and pulled the stroller close.  A few moments later, a wonderful salesperson came over with a sampler cup of the best mint tea I've ever tasted.  I took small sips and made faces at the baby.  While I was doing this my daughter came over and asked me how I liked the tea.

"It's really good, isn't it?" she said, then coughed.  She went back to the counter to get some more.

Less than a minute later my son came over and made a fuss of the baby.  He took a sip of his little cup of tea.

"Wow," he said.  "That's great tea."  Then he coughed.  He coughed again, then went over to see what his mother was buying.

I coughed.

The baby's mom came over.

"How's she doing?" she asked.  This was followed by a pair of rapid coughs.

My eyes drifted to the sampler cup in her hand, then about the store.  In the next five seconds over eighty percent of the patrons coughed.

Jesus, I thought, there's something wrong with the tea!

The baby coughed.

Not the tea.

I looked out into the mall.  At first there were one or two people moving with purpose toward the exit.  They were coughing.

A woman came to me from the mall.  She was coughing.

"You should - cough - get that baby out of here - cough- there's something wrong with the air."

I don't need more than one creepy warning from a stranger-lady.  I gathered the kids together and told the baby's mom I was heading for fresh air.  She said, amid  coughs, that she'd make her purchase and join us outside near the exit.  I took the stroller by the handles and was about to head into the mall.  I froze for a moment.

Dozens of people were streaming from deeper in the mall past the tea shop we were in.  All of them were coughing.  Some of them had their collars pulled over their noses.  A few had tears in their eyes.

Jesus wept!  I thought.  I've gotta get this baby outta here!

I slid into the crowd and, making sure my kids were close by, got clear of the mall and into fresh air.  All of us, the baby included, continued to cough for several minutes even out in fresh air.  The coughing was disconcerting.  There was apparent reason for the coughing. I felt no irritation, at least not consciously, yet every few second I would cough.

The coughs subsided but that was the end of our mall visit for the day.  We later found out on the news that a trio of teenagers had been messing around with bear spray in the mall near the Apple Store.  The Apple Store was at least two hundred metres from the tea shop we were in.  I guess bear spray is pretty powerful stuff.

The other incident took place outside of Lynn Valley Mall near spectacular Lynn Canyon.  The kids were hungry and wanted to stop off for a bite to eat before we took the Sea Taxi back to downtown Vancouver.

We were once again with our friend and her baby and as we were unloading the stroller from her car, a crow swooped down and landed on the car parked right across from us.  It seemed to look at us and cawed.  A few seconds later, a second crow landed on the nearby car, then a third.  In a matter of seconds there were dozens of crows descending on the parking lot, landing on other cars and filling the trees.  In the time it took us to unload the stroller, secure the baby and joke nervously about Alfred Hitchcock's famous move, a hundred crows must have come to the lot.  It was made all the more intense as the newest ones were swooping a little too close for comfort.  I felt the rush of air on my face as one crow passed inches away from my face.

It was an amazing, unnerving experience to be surrounded by these wonderful birds.  They took to cawing to each other and the chaos that followed was incredible.  As we headed indoors, more and more crows joined their fellows in the parking lot until black blotted out the roofs of many of the cars.

When we came out not a single crow remained.  There wasn't even a speck of birdshit to say they had ever been there.