One of the best parts of joining author groups on social media is that you find out about short story submission calls, and my favourite kind is the themed anthology. That's how I ended up writing both Exclusive Scoop and Let the Chips Fall Where They May. It's also how I brought back my intrepid reporters Vivian Bacall and Mason Shaw from Scoop for my story Clucking in the Dark here in CRACKED.
But before I talk any more about me, scroll down a bit and check out the terrific giveaway from our friends at Silver Dagger Book Tours! Come back after you enter, and enjoy a preview of my contribution.
Now I'll admit; when I first saw the submission call for CRACKED, I thought it was a joke. After all, I did see it on April 1st! But when April 2nd and 3rd rolled around and the call was still being discussed, it occurred to me that it was both very real and an opportunity to have a lot of fun.
I've wanted to bring back Vivian and Mason ever since Scoop was first published, and with the theme of the collection being "bizarre, fun, and chickens" it seemed like exactly the sort of situation they'd find themselves in. Since I always love to include a bit of Canadiana in my short stories, it was easy to pick an animal-themed caper from real-world Toronto history that I could base my story around: the High Park capybara escape.
This was a real thing: two capybaras at the High Park Zoo escaped a few years ago, and they were the talk of the city for months. Every so often there would be another sighting, sometimes with a picture, and there were rumours that the escapees had been found dead at least three times. Eventually, they were found safe and brought back to the Zoo, where I think they still remain today.
The "official" explanation is an entirely mundane story of human error. I think my explanation of what happened, in Clucking in the Dark, is a lot more interesting. And speaking of which, let's have a little snippet:
An irate Canada goose honked at Vivian and Mason as they entered the zoo. They ignored it, and never noticed the chickens staring at them from the bushes.
It was an idyllic little spot. Near the southern end of Toronto’s High Park, the largest park in the city, visitors could nearly wander into it by accident. Only a small wooden signpost with an unobtrusive welcome sign marked the place where one of the park paths became the zoo entrance, and pedestrians often found themselves walking past the dozen or so animal pens on either side without meaning to.
The animals were hardly what most would call exotic, but they were well-kept and given plenty of room in their enclosures. There were no tigers or zebras; instead there were Barbary sheep, West Highland cows, several wallabies, and peacocks. The largest crowd gathered around an empty enclosure, taking photos of the unoccupied space.
“They still haven’t caught those things!” Mason said, pointing at the vacant habitat. “I heard they were spotted at Bloor and Lansdowne the other day, but it was never confirmed.”
The things in question were a pair of capybaras, named Bonnie and Clyde after they had escaped the zoo four weeks prior. The educational plaque by the fence had a photo of the South American rodents.
“They’re like hundred-pound guinea pigs, aren’t they?” Vivian said. “The official story is that one of the zoo employees didn’t latch the gate properly, and Bonnie and Clyde took the opportunity to escape.”
The tone of her voice prompted Mason to study Vivian’s face. He hunched his broad shoulders and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“You think there’s an angle here. Not just that, you think there’s a weird angle. I know that look,” Mason said. Vivian was a blogger and freelance reporter, specializing in odd and unusual stories. “What, do you think ghosts stole the capybaras?” he asked.
“Come on, Mason, you and I saw a ghost together once. I don’t get how you can still be so skeptical all the time,” Vivian replied. Her wavy brown hair bounced as she shook her head, and she grinned. Mason was in the same line of work, minus the paranormal angle; he reported for the Cross-Canada Observer, one of the largest independent outlets in the country. She knew that no matter how annoyed he seemed, he’d be just as curious as she was to find the truth.
“But as it happens, no,” Vivian continued. “A ghost seems unlikely this time.”
She pointed to the ground near the fence. On the capybara’s side of the chain link, barely distinguishable in the dirt, were miniscule tracks that weren’t left by a capybara and certainly not by any ghost.
Mason hunkered down for a closer look. “Those are chicken tracks. And... tiny boot prints?” he said.