Friday, December 21, 2007

Mossy's Backpacers #18

Max watched the rain lash against the window as he finished wrapping the red garland around the curtain rod. He had not seen a storm like this since he had left Vancouver.

With two days to go until Christmas the hostel was buzzing with last minute preparations. Kisho and Haya were busy decorating the bottom of the tree while Tim used his height advantage to trim its upper reaches. Diego and Nigel were in the kitchen baking various goodies, their faces already half covered with flour.

Another bolt of lightening briefly illuminated the night sky with the inevitable deep rumble of thunder following shortly after. It had been carrying on this way since noon.

“Oh! The weather outside is frightful!” Tobias announced as he came in the door with three grocery bags worth of eggnog. He looked like he had just taken a shower fully clothed.

“Tis the season to be jolly,” Max told him as he helped to place the cartons on the dinner table. Tobias gave him a decidedly unjolly look before going off in search of a towel and dry clothes.

Max smiled and returned to his position by the window to watch the storm once more. He had always enjoyed Mother Nature’s spectacles and it had been much too long since his last viewing.

“And so it continued both day and night,” Cate sighed as she appeared at his side.

“Over the hills and everywhere!” he replied happily. She frowned at him before turning away from the window to survey her handiwork. She was obviously pleased with what she saw.

“All is calm, all is bright,” she smiled as her eyes moved from candle to candle. Cate had spent the last hour covering every available flat surface in the common rooms with lit candles of all shapes and sizes.

Mossy had arrived not long before Tobias and had eyed them nervously before going to the office without a word. Cate had decided this indicated encouragement but Max had managed to talk her out of lighting even more.

Max glanced to his left to see the Christmas tree leap into life as Kisho plugged in the lights for the first time.

“A beautiful sight,” Tim declared as he stepped back from placing the final ornament on their hard earned tree.

“Of all the trees, most lovely,” Cate agreed softly. Max was not completely sure she would feel the same way if she knew the nature of its procurement but he kept that to himself.

He stood watching the twinkling lights for a few moments before joining the now relatively dry Tobias at the dinner table. Together they arranged enough mugs to serve the whole hostel across the table top.

“All I want for Christmas,” Diego declared with a laugh as he brought over two bottles of rum from the kitchen. Max took one of the flour dusted bottles and began adding a few splashes to each mug. Tobias followed close behind with the eggnog, giggling every time he overfilled one. Which was pretty much each mug.

“We’re happy tonight,” Nigel observed as he arrived with the cinnamon and nutmeg.

“Heedless of the wind and weather,” Cate grumbled in reply. But she brightened considerably after taking a sip from the mug a laughing Max had passed her.

Kisho and Haya soon joined them for a drink, then Tim and Mossy, and before long the whole hostel was crowded around the table. The Spanish sisters Sara and Magdalena, who had returned to the hostel only a few days prior, were the last to arrive. It was then that Max and Tobias realized they had fallen two short in their estimate of the number of mugs required for everyone to have a drink.

“We won’t leave until we get some,” they declared in unison, sending the boys scrambling to find two more mugs. They did so in short order and it was not long before the sisters were mollified.

Never one for crowds, even when he knew everyone there, Max soon drifted away towards the TV lounge to find a bit of personal space. But not too much, as Cate drifted after him and they stood in the doorway together watching the crowd at the table.

After a few minutes of comfortable silence, Cate turned toward him to say something but stopped short with a small laugh. Max glanced down at her to see that she was looking above him, so he followed her gaze to find a mistletoe. Directly above his head. He swallowed hard.

I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night…

Max routed around for a moment until he found a nicely wrapped, large box. Then he opened it up, stuffed the voice inside it, closed it again and tied it up with several beautiful ribbons and bows.

He looked back down to see Cate smiling back at him, a bit shyly, but with a spark in her eye. She took a small step to close the distance between them.

Max glanced nervously at the dinner table to see if anyone was watching, but they were still busy chatting amongst themselves. Cate reached up and placed a finger on his cheek and brought his face gently back to hers.

As he looked at her the noise of the hostel faded away to nothing. Suddenly all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. It was just the two of them, inches apart, growing slowly closer…

Suddenly the front door was thrown open with a bang and all the noise and people came rushing back to his senses. When he turned to see who had caused the very, very unwelcome intrusion, Max almost dropped his mug.

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” Greg bellowed from the doorway, with Cindy grinning from ear to ear by his side.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #17

“So what are we doing again?”

“Finding a proper Christmas tree for the hostel because Mossy has one of those horrid fake ones. And keep your voice down.”

“And we’re doing this in the middle of the night because…?”

“It’s ah… more of an adventure this way. And shh.”

“Right. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the legality of cutting down a tree on someone else’s property without…”

“Ok, seriously Tim? You’re at like a nine right now and I need you at a three.”

“Sorry,” Tim replied at about a six.

“Good enough,” Max sighed as he continued to inspect trees by flashlight. “How about this one? It looks about the right height.”

“Too few branches,” Tobias whispered. “Too many gaps, it won’t do at all.”

“That’s what you said about the last four trees,” Max grumbled. “Who are you, the Head Elf of Santa’s Tree Inspection Agency?”

Tim barely managed to smother a loud laugh with his arm while Tobias ignored them both as he persevered in his search. Another ten minutes passed in near silence before he came to a stop in front of another tree.

“Ah, this one is perfect,” he announced.

“Great, let’s get to work,” Max said quickly. To his eye it looked no different than the others which had not passed Tobias’ inspection but he had no intention of mentioning that.

“Where did you get that axe anyway?” Tim asked.

“Long story, not interesting,” Max answered as he examined the trunk.

“It’s Mossy’s, isn’t it?”


“And he doesn’t know you have it.”

“Can we discuss this later?”

Tim grunted noncommittally but it was enough for Max. He passed the flashlight to Tobias and took aim at the disturbingly sturdy-looking trunk. His first swing hit home with a thud that sounded like a firecracker in the still woods.

“Hey Max? Your tree chopping is around a twelve, could we get you down to a four or five?” Tim asked happily. Max swore under his breath and kept going.

How long before Farmer Brown shows up with his shotgun?

Max tuned the voice out and continued hacking away. After several more swings his shirt was clinging to his back and he was breathing hard. He paused to inspect his progress.

Very impressive, you must be a tenth of the way through, the voice snickered.

“The Canadian Lumberjack Society will be very disappointed when they hear about this,” Tobias said as he shook with silent laughter.

“Do one of you two clowns want to try it?” Max huffed.

“Nuh uh, I’m on flashlight duty,” Tobias grinned.

“Here, pass it over,” Tim said as he rubbed his hands together. “Grab hold of it so it doesn’t come crashing down.”

Max got a firm grip on the trunk about halfway up and braced himself. Tim’s first swing almost rattled his teeth right out of his mouth.

This keeps getting better and better.

After two more bone jarring swings Max was ready to try chopping again. But before he could say anything Tim swung again and the tree came free from its base. It looked like he had not even broken a sweat.

“Well then,” Max said evenly. “Let’s get this out of here. Tim grab the top, I’ll grab the bottom, Tobias lead the way back.”

“Yes, good plan,” Tobias said as he glanced first to his left, then to his right. After looking over his shoulder he asked, “Which way would back be?”

I knew we should have brought a video camera for this.

Max opened his mouth to reply just as Tim grabbed the top of the tree and pulled it towards himself. The sudden shift resulted in Max being on the receiving end of a mouthful of pine needles.

“Isn’t it that way?” he finally managed as he picked the last needle out from between his front teeth.

“I thought we came from that way,” Tim offered from the other end of the tree, pointing in the opposite direction Max had indicated.

“Well at least we have a tree, we’re halfway through this!” Tobias said a bit too optimistically for Max’s liking.

He shifted the tree into a more comfortable position on his right shoulder and studied his surroundings. After a few moments he could say with complete confidence that all of the trees looked exactly the same.

That was when they heard the dogs barking in the distance to their right.

Dogs? DOGS?!? Fantastic.

“Ah…” Max began, “may I humbly suggest that we try going…”

“… In the exact opposite direction of the rabid dogs?” Tim finished in a rush.

“Follow me,” Tobias squeaked. As he started off (in a direction neither Max nor Tim had earlier suggested was the correct way) he asked over his shoulder, “Should I turn the flashlight off?”

“I’d rather not walk face first into a tree, thanks very much,” Tim responded through gritted teeth.

“Can we pick up the pace a bit? They’re getting closer in a big hurry,” Max half whispered, half yelled.

They lurched into a faltering half-jog with Tim and Max getting regular eye and earfuls of pine needles. The dogs grew steadily closer.

This has got to be the single worst idea you’ve ever… is that the road?

It was. Seconds later they were clear of the woods and back on sweet, smooth, obstruction free pavement. Tobias spotted the hostel van immediately, about a hundred meters up the road.

“Let’s go, let’s go!” he yelped.

As quickly as possible with their burden, they arrived at the back of the van. Max unlocked the double doors at the back and they stuffed the tree in. For one heart stopping moment it did not want to fit but one last shove from Tim got it the rest of the way in.

As they shut the doors four howling, barking, foaming at the mouth dogs burst through the tree line and onto the road behind them. Tobias whimpered, Tim swore loudly and Max simply said, “Get in. Now.”

They scrambled around the sides, Max jumping in the driver’s seat as Tim and Tobias dove through the sliding passenger door. They slammed it shut just as the first dog drew even with the rear tires.

As the scraping of their claws against the door echoed inside the van Max gunned the engine, threw it into drive and floored it.

“Is this some kind of Canadian Christmas tradition?” Tim asked from the floor behind Max. “Because if it’s not, it really oughta be.”

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #16

Max grabbed a t-shirt off the drying line and inspected it closely. He did not remember this one having a hole in it before.

“I’m going to burn all of my clothes when I get home,” he announced.

“That’s a great idea,” Cate laughed as she plucked off one of her socks from the other line. She stuck a finger through a hole in the toes and continued, “I think I might have to join you.”

“I am so sick of all of this stuff. Well, except for these shorts. I still love these,” Max admitted as he unpegged his chocolate brown cargo shorts.

“Well you should, you look good in those,” Cate told him with a smile that threatened to make him sweat, even though the sun had just sunk below the horizon.

“Ah, thanks,” he replied as he busied himself with more laundry.

Lordy you’re smooth. It’s a small miracle she hasn’t leapt into your bed yet. How does she contain herself around you?

You are so helpful, Max sighed. Remind me to put in a nomination for you the next time a Humanitarian award comes up.

“I’m hoping my parents send me some new clothes for Christmas,” she said, then froze mid-motion. She gave him a horrified look before explaining, “I can’t believe I just said that. My mom has hideous fashion sense. I will never say that again.”

Max laughed loudly and took his last shirt off the line. He added it to the pile in the hostel’s crumbling laundry basket at his feet and frowned.

“Remind me to yell at Mossy about these baskets, they’re bloody terrible,” he muttered.

“A man who cares about laundry baskets? Well I do declare, I’m feeling a bit faint,” Cate drawled as she fanned herself with a sock.

Max shook his head at her but before he could reply he heard someone ring the bell at the check-in desk.

“Do we have any empty beds tonight?” Cate asked as he headed inside.

“Just Cindy and Greg’s,” Max replied over his shoulder.

“It’s been four days now,” she chided him gently.

“I know, I know…”

He navigated the hallways, lost in fond thoughts of the recent closeness that had developed between Cate and himself. They had spent the last two evenings talking about anything and everything late in the night. Max had almost fallen asleep mid-sentence last night, so reluctant was he to part with her company.

You should take her out to dinner some time. You know, a real proper date?

That’s actually not a bad… what the hell?

As he rounded the last corner the backpackers responsible for interrupting his most recent Cate Time came into view. Three girls were gathered around the desk, chatting excitedly amongst themselves. Each of them was wearing brightly colored flip flops, intricately flowered sarongs and bikini tops. And nothing else.

You told me Barbie wasn’t real. You also neglected to tell me about her sisters.

“Ah, welcome to Mossy’s,” he said as he approached them. “How can I help-?”

“Oh wow, is this like, your hostel?” the shortest one asked.

“Um, no… Mossy isn’t around at the moment. I’m Max, I help-”

“Oh cool,” she interrupted again. “I’m Tiffany and this is Lizzie and Bobbi.”

“Hi,” Lizzie and Bobbi said together, which caused them to giggle at each other.

“Hello,” Max managed to say politely enough, eliciting more giggles.

We still hate air heads, right? Good, good. Out the door-

“So we’re like, totally desperate for a place to stay,” Tiffany continued as Max sat down behind the desk. “The other two hostels in town are totally full.”

Wow, she interrupts everyone, including me.

“Yeah it’s a bit late to be showing up without a reservation,” he replied as he prepared to break the bad news to them.

“Wow your hair is super curly,” Lizzie gushed. “Is that natural or do you use product?”

“Ah, no, it just does whatever it wants, no gel or anything,” Max answered, caught totally off guard. He could see out of the corner of his eye that most of the guys in the hostel had stopped what they were doing to watch the scene unfold. There was going to be a small mutiny when he turned these girls away.

“Normally I don’t like curly hair on guys,” Tiffany confessed, “but on you it looks way hot.”

Ah… well… hmm.

Max silently agreed with this profound assessment of the situation.

“So do you have a girlfriend?” Tiffany asked as she leaned over the counter, her eyes giving every indication that she hoped the answer was no.

“Ah, it’s complicated,” Max replied as Cate came around the corner. He squirmed in his chair slightly before moving on. “And sorry, we only have a double bed available tonight.”

“Oh that’s alright,” Lizzie said as she joined Tiffany’s leaning over the counter party, “we’re very close. We share beds all the time.”

More giggling.

Bloody hell. What are you supposed to say to that?

Max had no idea but thankfully Cate stepped in to help him out. Or so he thought.

“Are Johnny’s and The Picker’s Rest full up tonight?” she asked, joining Max behind the desk.

“Yeah,” Tiffany and Lizzie replied together, straightening up suddenly. No giggles this time.

“Well we can’t have you sleeping on the street, now can we?” Cate asked Max sweetly.

Yes, we can.

“No, I guess not,” he replied weakly.


“Right then,” she beamed at him before turning back to the Valley Girls. “We’ll squeeze you into the double room tonight but you’ll have to find another hostel tomorrow.”

Can we lock them in there?

“Thanks, you’re a life saver,” Tiffany said politely as she looked Cate up and down.

“I’ll show you to your room, just follow me,” Cate said cheerfully as she stepped out from behind the desk. She turned to Max and told him brightly, “Be back in a flash, Curly.”

She’s… evil.

Yes, Max thought to himself. And if she was doing this to anyone else I’d think she was hilarious.

Too bad the joke’s on you then.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #15

Max lay in the hammock, rocking gently from side to side. He was gazing at the sunlight being filtered through the leaves and branches above him, completely lost in thought.

Cindy and Greg had left just after lunch and he had spent the two hours since then out back with only his thoughts for company. He knew everyone else was inside watching an important game of some sorts on the TV but he could not be a part of that just yet.

Max needed, quite simply, time to miss two people who had grown to be very dear to him over the last few months. Close bonds tended to be forged quickly and deeply on the road and this one was no different.

In the absence of friends and family, finding kindred spirits is a joy that tends to be latched onto with a fierce grip and treasured greatly. This results in the time of separation being especially difficult and jarring.

Max closed his eyes and tried to center himself before rejoining the crowd inside. The two Brits were fantastic company and he knew they would keep in touch. And there were still several guests remaining that he was close to, like Tobias and Tim and Cate… oh, there was very definitely Cate.

“Hey Max, you alright?”

He kept his eyes close and continued swaying slowly as his thoughts were scattered to the wind.

“Hey Cate. Yeah I’m alright, just needed some time to myself.”

“Want some more or is it okay if I join your mourning party?”

“Haha, no, go ahead and grab a hammock. It’s very therapeutic.”

Max listened to Cate settling into the one behind him, their shared tree yawning lazily at its new burden. When she next spoke her voice came from close by, which meant she had chosen to lay heads together. For no particular reason he found that comforting.

“Funny how quickly you get attached to people when you’re backpacking,” she said wistfully.

“Yeah, back home it would take a year to get to know people as well as you do in a month at a hostel,” Max agreed, opening his eyes to once again watch the sunlight play with the leaves overhead.

“Do you think it’s just the combination of forced close quarters and common interests,” Cate asked, “or do you think these bonds would happen as long as the people meet at all?”

“You mean do I think I’d be close to the same people at home as I would be on the road?” Max asked carefully.

“Yeah, I guess that’s what I was trying to ask,” came the soft reply.

Suddenly he was not so sure they were talking generally. Things were getting very specific, very quickly.

“Well,” he began while grasping wildly for the right words, “I reckon the potential for that closeness would be there – it would just take more time to develop at home.”

“That’s true – I don’t even see my best mates more than a couple times a week back home.”

“I guess we’re lucky then,” Max replied before he realized what he was saying, “it would have taken forever to get to know each other so well back in B.C.”

Well that’s probably the bravest thing you’ve said to her. Sadly.

Aye, he thought, or the stupidest.

Cate took a few moments to reply as Max held his breath and hoped for the best.

“Yeah, we are,” and he could hear the smile in her voice. “Which reminds me – about the other night, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have imposed on your trip like that. I had no right-”

“It’s okay,” Max told her gently. “I’m glad you did.”

“No, I really… you are?” To his biased ear she sounded a little surprised, a bit confused, and a whole lot pleased.

Damn biased ears, trying to show you reality when all your big stupid eyes want to see is –

Hush, this is important.

At least you’ve got that much right.

“Well I know for sure I’ll need that extra kick out the door to leave here,” Max laughed. “By then I’ll have been here longer than I was in each of my last 3 apartments in Vancouver!”

“Right, yeah that’ll be tough,” Cate said a bit flatly.

We’re losing her here...

All in due time, all in due time.

“And it’ll be great to have someone to split a rental car with,” he continued casually.

“Totally,” she replied without a hint of enthusiasm.

Psst, Houston? We have a problem.

Oh ye of little faith.

“Maybe we can go the Jay and Diego route and paint it red and white, with the words to O Canada written on it.”

Cate gave a forced laugh, and then Max heard her shift around in her hammock as though she was preparing to get up.

Good idea girl, I’m out of here too.

Well, if you like – but I don’t think you’re going to want to miss this.

“But most of all, it’ll be great to have some company on the road. Especially,” Max closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and dove into the deep end, “when that company is as fun, smart and pretty as you.”

You… no way…

You are now free to leave me the hell alone.

Cate paused for a short eternity before finishing getting out of her hammock. Max heard her approach but kept his eyes firmly shut as he did his best to remain calm.

“Despite your best efforts, you can be very sweet Max,” Cate said as she reached down and tussled his hair. He slowly opened his eyes to see her smiling down at him, her face framed by her sun-fired hair. Not having the slightest clue as to how to respond, he turned once again to his old friend Silence.

“Come back in soon,” she told him with a small wink. “The hostel isn’t the same without you.”

She turned and strolled back to the hostel, pausing briefly at the doorway to turn and give him another smile. After she had disappeared from view, Max counted to ten and, as casually as possible, followed after her.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #14

“Do you think she was serious?”

“I dunno mate, she looked pretty serious to me,” Greg replied evenly. A casual observer might have almost thought he had not already answered that question five times in the last ten minutes. Almost.

“Nah, there’s no way,” Max said stubbornly.

Greg rolled his eyes at him and flipped a couple of burgers over. He looked quite at home manning the barbeque wearing Mossy’s “My meat brings all the girls to the yard” apron. Fortunately all the girls had already left for their night on the town by the time Mossy had found it. Well, one would consider it fortunate if one cared about Greg’s health and well being. Max had thought it was quite unfortunate.

“Well,” Greg said, attempting to remain calm, “she seemed really excited by the idea of splitting a rental car with you.”

“Yeah, that would be so much more reliable than thumbing it again,” Max allowed.

“Just slightly,” Greg snorted. He glanced over his shoulder at the slowly setting sun. “We couldn’t have asked for a better night for this. It’s too bad we can’t watch the movies out here.”

“That would be awesome – hey, I bet we could too!” Max said, finally perking up a bit. “We could run an extension cord out here, carry the couches out… this is gonna be brilliant!”

Greg smiled and took a swig from his bottle of beer, relieved to see his friend get his mind on something besides Caitlin for once. It did not last long.

“I’ll go ask Mossy where the big extension cord is,” Max said as he started to turn away. He took a few steps before he paused, glanced around and then came back to the barbeque. “Seriously though, do you really think she meant it?”

“I don’t bloody well know!” Greg snapped. “Why don’t you just bloody well ask her?”

“Well I can’t right now, now can I?” Max said a bit peevishly. He realized how he sounded and winced slightly. Thankfully he was spared Greg’s reply by Jay’s timely arrival.

“It smells fantastic out here!”

“Yeah, thanks,” Greg managed to reply in a fairly civil manner. He returned his focus to the burgers and chicken on the grill in front of him before the temptation to impale Max with the huge barbeque fork became too strong.

“How are things going in the kitchen?” Max asked before Jay could ask about the cause of Greg’s behavior.

“Really good, Kisho is doing up those two cod Mossy caught for us and everybody’s mouth is watering!” Jay laughed. “We’ve got a couple guys on veggie cutting duty and Tobias is hell bent on making some sort of dessert.”

“I hope it involves both chocolate and chocolate chips,” Max smiled. “How’s Diego’s rice dish coming along?”

“Ah, not so well,” Jay replied, frowning and scratching the back of his head. “First he burned the rice, so he had to start over, then he managed to dump half the herbs in the garbage. That was the last of the cilantro so he had to do a run to the store to get more.”

“I told you that was one of their cars we heard!” Greg told Max smugly.

“Yeah, we really need to get a mechanic to have a look at the engines but we just don’t have the cash to spare right now,” Jay lamented.

“I think one of Mossy’s mates is a car guy, I bet he could swing you a deal,” Max told him. “Come on, I need to go talk to him right now anyway.”

“Sweet man, I really appreciate it,” Jay beamed. “You need anything from inside Greg?”

“Another one of these would hit the spot,” he replied, shaking his nearly empty bottle.

“You got it.”

Max lead the way back inside, past the idle washing machines, through the bathroom and shower area and into the bustling kitchen. Even with so many bodies in such a small space it only took him a heartbeat to spot the owner, towering over them all.

“Mossy! Quick word?”

The big man looked up from the soup he had been staring into, smiled broadly and attempted to squeeze his way through the crowd. His efforts were made significantly easier once everyone realized what was happening and simply momentarily abandoned the kitchen.

“Thanks lads,” Mossy called over his shoulder as everyone settled back in. “What’s up Max?”

“Two things,” Max replied, holding up the appropriate number of fingers. “Thing the first: where’s your longest extension cord?”

“It’s behind the seat of my truck… why?”

“You’ll see. Thing the second: Jay and Diego, I suspect you’ve noticed, need their cars looked at. Do you know someone that could help out?”

“Rory,” he replied immediately.

“Ah, payment might be an issue,” Jay said, a bit embarrassed.

“Naw it won’t, Rory will probably do it just for the fun of it. He’s not quite right in the head, that one,” Mossy laughed while tapping his forehead.

“Perfect!” Max smiled. “I’m gonna go grab the cord. Oh, Mossy when a couple guys are freed up in here could you get them to bring the couches out back?”

“Sorry?” Mossy blinked at him slowly.

“And I’m going to need a hand lifting that big fat TV of yours too,” Max carried on. “We can leave the stand though, that tree stump by the hammocks should do the trick.”

“You’re taking the piss,” Mossy stated firmly. “You cannot be serious.”

“Theatre under the stars mate! It’s going to be brilliant!”

Mossy looked at Jay, then back at Max. It was fairly obvious that he had not previously encountered this particular situation in his forty-two years on Earth.

“You’re taking my TV and furniture outside?”

“Aye aye, captain!”

“And I’m paying you to be here?”

“Not nearly enough mate!” Max gave him a toothy grin, spun on his heel and headed off again, leaving a slightly shell-shocked Mossy behind him.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #13

“I can’t believe you’re actually leaving.”

“I know, but it’s past time to be moving on.”

“Where will you go first?”

“There’s a hostel on the coast, about a five hour drive south of here that I’ve heard great things about.”

“Oh yeah, The Captain’s Shack? Everyone I’ve met who’s stayed there has raved about it.”

“So you’re off on Saturday then?” Cate managed to squeeze in before either of the guys could blabber on.

“Aye, that’s the plan,” Greg replied as he looked up from the map he had spread across the dinner table. “There was no way Cindy was gonna miss Girls Night Out.”

“Like you would miss another night hanging out with the boys,” Cate chided him.

“Aye, well, there’s that. Max is gonna let me pick out the movies too!”

“Don’t make me regret it,” Max shot back. “I’ll kick you out a night early if you come in here with Bridget Jones’s Diary and Johnny English.”

“Two fine movies in their own right, but I shall do my best to find something everyone can enjoy,” Greg answered as he swept his arm around to encompass the entire hostel. Then, as though he truly could not resist the temptation, he cheekily added, “Not just you.”

Max shook his head and went back to studying the map. It was Wednesday evening and the hostel had a pleasant buzz in the air. All but a few guests had finished cleaning up after their dinner and were strewn throughout the common rooms engaged in muted conversation. Someone had put a Ben Harper cd on the stereo and his soulful voice made a perfect backdrop for the scene.

Max smiled contentedly. Vibe Quality Control was a happy man on this night.

“I won’t believe you two are actually leaving until I see you lug your bags out the door,” Max told him. “And even then I won’t rent your room for at least a week cuz I’ll be expecting you back any hour.”

“You’re a big sentimental sap, you know that right?” Greg accused him, but Max could tell he was touched. At least he thought he was – it was equally likely his pained expression was a result of the beans on toast he had eaten for dinner.

“I’ve just gotten used to having your ugly mug around,” Max said distractedly as he traced the route south with his finger. “It won’t be the same here without you two Brit’n up the place.”

“What about you mate?” Greg asked from across the table. “You can’t stay here forever.”

Max did not look up but he still noticed Cate shifting awkwardly in her seat to his left. They had not had more than a few minutes alone together since Monday afternoon and he could feel their interrupted conversation hanging between them.

You should really get on that you –

Yes, I know, Max thought for the tenth time that day.

“And you’re looking awful fond of that map,” Greg added when Max didn’t respond. “The road is calling you again isn’t it?”

Max looked up and glanced around the room, being careful not to catch Cate’s eye as he did so.

“It’s hard to leave a place like this,” he finally said. “You get settled in, get comfortable. You get to know people, really know them – not just the usual ten minute chat then goodbye forever. It’s places like this where you make the connections that last even after you’re back home. And you just know everywhere you go after here won’t be able to measure up.”

“That doesn’t mean those places aren’t worth seeing,” Cindy said as she joined them at the table, cuddling up to Greg. “You know there are places here you would love to see. Things you’d love to do. If you keep putting it off, before you know it you’ll be sitting at home wondering why you never saw or did any of it.”

“I know, I know,” Max said as he raised his hands in front of himself to fend her words off. “Being a born procrastinator doesn’t help anything either. I just need to set aside some time to draw up a concrete plan of how I want to spend the rest of my trip.”

“When are you going back home, April?” Greg asked.

“Yeah, at the latest. Anything past that and me mum will get me deported.”

“So about four months from now, that’s heaps of time,” Cindy said as she placed her guidebook on the table and started flipping through it.

“Ah, yeah, but I’m definitely spending Christmas and New Year’s here so it’s more like three,” Max said a bit defensively. “What are you doing?”

“No time like the present,” Cindy replied without looking up. “You have some spare paper hun?”

“I do indeed,” Greg answered with an apologetic shrug in Max’s direction. He then nonchalantly pulled a pen and two sheets of lined paper from underneath his map.

“You cheeky bastards,” Max told them with narrowed eyes. “Looks like you weren’t just planning your own departure, hmm?”

“We were worried about you staying here too long,” Cindy replied with her nose still buried in her Lonely Planet. “We’ve been talking about you -”

“You’ve been talking about me?” Max gave Cate an exasperated look. “You see what I have to put up with? With friends like these -”

“One should consider oneself very lucky,” Cate smiled. “This will be fun – so where are we sending him first?”

Sending? I’m not -”

“That depends on how he’ll be traveling,” Greg answered as though Max had not spoken. “Are you planning on going around by thumb again?”

“Er, I hadn’t really thought about it. This is completely ridiculous, you’re all aware of that, right?”

“You have given no thought as to how you’ll be getting around after you leave here?” Cindy asked, finally looking up.

“Well, I mean…”

“Bloody hell, this is going to be a long night,” she sighed.

“I’ll get the beer,” Cate said, standing up with a gleam in her eye. “And don’t worry you two, I’ll make sure he sticks to whatever plan we draw up tonight.”

“Oh for crying – and how will you manage that?” Max asked, crossing his arms across his chest.

“Simple: by going with you.” And with that she turned and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Max staring after her, his mouth gaping.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #12

Max studied his opponent closely as he gradually closed the distance between them. As he entered striking range again he faked a right hook to the head. His opponent responded by bringing his hands up to protect his face, so Max snapped two crisp left jabs to the body before slipping away again.

“Are you going to peck away at me with those sissy jabs all fight,” Cate asked from beside him, “or are you going to be a man and try to knock me out?”

It was Monday afternoon and the two of them had completed their cleaning duties shortly after lunch. A rare rain shower had trapped them inside since then, where they had been reading and writing until Cate had asked him from across the room if he was up for some video game action.

Max had been impressed and quickly agreed. When she suggested that they play a boxing game first, he had had to quash a very strong urge to propose to her on the spot.

“You’re just mad that you can’t break through my iron clad defense,” Max replied while maneuvering his boxer confidently around the digital ring. He had selected Joe Frazier as his fighter while Cate had chosen Lennox Lewis, as any good wannabe-British Canadian girl ought to.

“You fight like a girl,” Cate countered as she threw a wild right that Max easily ducked.

“Hey now, just because I’m beating the pants off you there’s no need to question my masculinity!”

“Ha! You wish you were beating the pants off me!”

Max blinked and looked at her sideways. She had definitely been joking but he thought that he had detected something else in her voice. Before he could give it much thought he realized Cate was not looking back at him. In fact, she was still focused on the TV, her fingers working rapidly over the controller in her hands.

Max snapped back to the game just in time to see Frazier double over from the impact of a left hook to the body. Before he could recover, Lewis followed up with a huge right uppercut that sent him reeling.

“Ow, son of a…” he muttered as he scrambled to reestablish his defense.

“Iron clad me arse!” Cate shouted triumphantly. Sadly, there was no one else around to hear that particular gem.

“Lucky shot,” Max grumbled.

“Shots, actually – there were two,” she pointed out happily. She then added in a more thoughtful tone, “I guess while I’m nit-picking I should also point out that in order for you to be beating the pants off me, I’d have to be wearing pants.”

Max had to struggle to prevent himself from looking at the tanned legs stretched out beside him, on full display thanks to Cate’s brown Columbia shorts. He managed to keep his eyes on the game but Frazier still ended up eating three sharp jabs to the face before Max regained his focus.

“You’re cheating,” he told her matter-of-factly. “Stop cheating.”

“Am I now?” she laughed. “And how do you suppose I’m managing that?”

Yes Max, just how is she doing that?

Bloody hell, he thought. Well there’s no good answer to that, so I might as well go with the truth.

“You’re distracting me from the game,” he said, swallowing the awkward laugh threatening to add itself on to the end of his statement. He kept his eyes firmly on the boxers in front of him.

“What’s wrong? You can’t talk and box at the same time?” She sounded as though she was trying to tease him but Max could sense the conversation ebbing inexorably to a more serious tone. He could feel her eyes on him now as a small bead of sweat formed at the base of his neck, then slowly trickled down between his shoulder blades.

You should ask her “Is it hot in here or is it just you?” the little voice cackled.

Max calmly rummaged around in the back of his head until he found the voice. He then grabbed it by the neck, dragged it out behind the shed and shot it. Twice.

He continued to move Frazier around the ring, trying to buy himself time to figure out what to say next. Lewis had stopped protecting his head again so Frazier moved in to try to end the fight early. As Max wound up for a knockout punch, he realized Lewis had stopped moving completely.

Max held the punch and glanced at Cate. She had let go of the controller and was looking at him with a mixture of concern, confusion and something else.


You talk pretty well for a guy with two bullet holes in him, Max thought darkly.

I’m resilient like that.

“Max?” Cate said gently.

“Sorry, just have a lot going on up here right now,” he replied, putting down his controller to tap his head.

“Care to share?”

Max swallowed hard. He tried to make it silent but, as is always the case when you need it to be quiet – in a library or church, speaking in front of a large crowd – the body rebelled and made sure the gulp was loud enough to rattle the windows.

“Ah, yeah, actually,” Max began carefully.

“Hey kids!” Mossy boomed as he strode into the room.

“Holy – hey big man, didn’t hear you come in,” Max told him. He had jumped at least two feet in the air.

“Hey boss,” Cate said.

Is that disappointment in her voice?

Don’t make me shoot you again, Max threatened silently.

“Did I, um… interrupt? I can come back later,” Mossy offered while doing a remarkable job of ignoring the idle boxers on the TV to his left.

“No,” Max and Cate said together. Max flashed a smile at her then continued on, “You need something?”

“I just wanted to go over some of the books with you Max, my accountant is coming in tomorrow and I just want to be clear on a few things ahead of time.”

“Sure, no problem,” Max replied, standing up. As he left the room with Mossy he turned and gave Cate a quick smile. She returned it, although a bit sadly, he thought to himself as he turned away again.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #11

“Wow, mate!” Greg said as he came in the front door. “Have you seen those…?”

“Couch,” Max replied flatly, sticking his thumb in Jay and Diego’s direction. They were sitting on the couch chatting with the last five guests who had returned to the hostel that afternoon. Max was already regretting his decision to take them in.

“Everything copasetic?” Greg asked suspiciously.

“Oh yeah, grand. I’m just pining for the days when people said ‘hello’ to me when they came through that door. You know, back when people still had manners?” Max let loose an overly dramatic sigh and returned to his paperwork.

“Don’t worry, Princess – you’ll be the favorite child of the hostel again soon enough,” Greg patted him on the head then went to join the animated discussion around the couches. Max stuck his tongue out at his retreating back.

As he watched the American and Mexican start their tale over once again, Max heard the hostel’s office phone ring. Cate answered on the fourth ring, sounding a bit out of breath since she had run from the clothes line out back. He was seated about ten feet away, but it had been her turn to answer so he continued to twirl his pen between his fingers. Rules were rules, after all.

Just as he heard Cate say, “He’s right here, just one moment”, the pen slipped off his fingers and went under the table. Max bent to fetch it, contorting his body awkwardly to fit between the bench and the table top.

“It’s for you,” Cate said from above the table. Max grabbed the pen and straightened hurriedly, slamming the back of his head against the solid wood of the table in the process. He paused for a couple of breaths for his vision to stop blurring, then swore loudly.

“Who is it?” he asked her through gritted teeth.

“Your mum,” she replied, struggling to keep a straight face as she continued to hold out the cordless for him. Max grabbed the phone and turned so that his back was to her. He thought he heard her snicker as he lifted it to his ear.

“Hi mum.”

“Who was that?” the familiar voice asked, sounding much closer than the half a world away she actually was.

“Who?” Max’s head was throbbing, making thinking difficult.

“That girl. She sounded pretty, where’s she from?”

“Aren’t you even going to say hello? Nobody says hello anymore.”

“Hello. So, son, who was that? Have you finally found yourself a girl?”

Max sighed. He briefly considered telling her that Cate was fifty and a mother of two, but knew it wasn’t worth the bother. Mum always knew when he was lying. Always. It kind of creeped him out, if he was honest about it.

Instead he glanced over his shoulder to verify that Cate had gone back outside and said, “That was Caitlin, she started working here a couple of weeks ago. She’s from Victoria, actually.”

“Oh, just a ferry ride away! And to think you had to go thousands of miles from home to meet her!”

“Yeah, that’s traveling for you. How are things at home?” Max asked, attempting to move the conversation to more comfortable ground.

“We’re fine dear. Why are you changing the subject? Is she within hearing distance?”


“What was that? I’m getting a lot of static at this end.” He thought about crumpling up some paper to add to his story but decided that would be a bit much.

“Oh my, she’s really gotten into your head hasn’t she?” the all-knowing voice replied. “I bet you haven’t even told her how you feel yet.”

Max leaned back and stared at the ceiling for a moment. How the hell does she do that, he wondered silently.

“I’m your mother, dear.”

He almost dropped the phone. This was too much, how –

“You can talk to me. What’s the problem?”

“It’s… complicated,” Max said weakly.

“She’s a girl, Maxwell – of course it’s complicated,” she told him with a hint of laughter in her voice.

“Now isn’t the best time mum. I’ll send you an email about it later.”

“Always more comfortable with the written word instead of the spoken,” she sighed. “Alright. But I’m calling on Monday if I haven’t received that email by then.”

“Fair enough,” Max cringed. Now there was no way out of it. It was either an email with a proper explanation or repeated phone calls until someone started asking questions. With his luck that someone would be Cate.

“So I guess we will be mailing your Christmas presents again this year?” Max could hear the sadness at the edges of her voice.

“Yeah, looks like it,” he replied, trying to ignore the sudden tightness in his throat. Simple words, spoken plainly from a great distance, can trigger great emotions he reflected.

“This will be the second year in a row, dear. We love that you’re out there seeing the world, but we do miss you so much.”

“I know mum, I know you do.” Max blinked away the moisture at the corners of his eyes. “I’ll be back before spring, I promise.”

“I will keep you to that promise young man!” She was trying to sound stern but he could tell she was smiling.

“I better get going. I’ll drop off another postcard soon. And I’ll get presents for everybody in the mail by the end of the week.”

“And that email,” she reminded him, the smile definitely gone now.

“Right, that too, of course. Love you lots, give my love to everyone for me.”

“Home by spring, right? Don’t make me send your sisters to come get you.”

“That might be fun, actually…”

“Not once they get you back here, it won’t. I love you son.”

“Bye mum.”

Max hung up just as Mossy came through the door. He could tell he was about to ask about the painted cars parked in front of his hostel, so he cut him off to save them both some time.

“Couch,” he said, then gathered his things and went to his room to be alone for a while.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #10

“I am never drinking again.”

“Is that right? And how many times have you said that before?”

“Twenty-five. But I mean it this time.”

Cate laughed and went back to making her lunch. Max shrugged and returned to preparing his breakfast.

“Have you seen Kisho today?” he asked over his shoulder. They had the kitchen to themselves and the only other person he had seen since he crawled out of bed was Cindy as she was heading out for groceries.

“Yeah, I saw him this morning,” Cate replied while dicing a tomato for the chicken salad she was putting together. “Him and his wife – what’s her name again? Saya I think. Anyway, they went for a hike after breakfast, they should be back soon.”

“Oh,” Max managed to reply. What he really wanted to say was “What a bloody show off.”

“Don’t feel bad,” Cate chided him as she came over to rinse off her knife. She gave him another one of her wicked grins before continuing. “Drinking to excess is a young man’s game and Kish’s got you by a few years I reckon.”

“Twenty-eight is not old!” Max shot back.

“True, but I believe he’s twenty-two. But you did well to keep up with him!”

“He passed out first, thanks very much.” But Max knew this was a conversation he was not going to win, so he decided to steer it in another direction. “So how was Thelma and Louise last night?”

“Thelm – we did not watch that you cheeky old man!” Cate exclaimed indignantly. Max would have been hurt by the ‘old man’ comment had he not known (thanks to viewing her passport during check-in) she was only one year his junior.

“No? Romeo and Juliet was it?” he returned with his sweetest smile.

In reply she snorted in very unladylike fashion and flicked tap water in his face. Max grunted menacingly and shook his wooden cooking spoon at her.

“Are you cooking eggs?” Cate asked in surprise. “I thought you were vegetarian.”

“I’m not that vegetarian,” he replied haughtily. “I eat eggs and fish and I’ll have a bit of chicken now and then. Red meat, on the other hand, is just… yuck.”

“I know what you mean,” she told him, crinkling up her nose in an attempt to signify her distaste. Max just thought it made her look cute, but he quickly shoved that thought away as she carried on. “I love chicken though, could eat it every day. Doesn’t make much sense does it?”

“If you drink enough, anything can make sense,” Max shrugged. “But I’ll need some food in me before I can answer that in a vaguely respectable manner. And maybe a nap.”

“Did you –“ Cate began before being drowned out by a loud rumbling emanating from outside. They both went into the TV room and looked out the window facing the street.

“Well,” Max said after they had been looking for a few moments, “am I the only one hallucinating or do you see this too?”

“What I see,” Cate responded slowly while fighting back laughter, “are two very, very interesting looking cars pulled up outside the hostel.”

“Good, at least we’re in this together.”

The car in front looked like it might have been red all over at one time. Now, however, the red only showed in a few spots on the side and at the corners of the hood. The remaining surfaces were covered with paintings that appeared to be done by hand: a massive yellow and black sun on the hood; a moon and flowers on the side; and what appeared to be a beach scene on the roof.

The second car paled in comparison, but to be fair the Batmobile would not have fared much better had it been parked next to the first ride. The car in back was black but was covered with silver hand writing. The silence that followed their motors being turned off was deafening.

“I need to get a closer look,” Max stated firmly.

“Are you going to let them stay?” Cate asked as she followed him to the door. She had seen him turn four more people away since she had begun working with him. Thankfully for Max, she had agreed with him on each occasion.

“We’ll see,” he answered noncommittally.

The two drivers climbed out of their vehicles as they approached. Disarmingly, they both looked quite normal.

“Hello!” The closer one called out to them. He had short blonde hair, a golden tan and wore sunglasses, which he removed as he strode over with his hand outstretched for handshakes. “Are you the couple that runs this place?”

Max had now completely lost his bearings. He had to fight off a sudden urge to go back to bed.

“Ah, not exactly,” Cate replied as she shook his hand. “I’m Caitlin, this is Max. We just look after things when Mossy isn’t around.”

“Cool, nice to meet you both. I’m Jay and this here is Diego,” he said, indicating his traveling companion who had just joined them by the hood of the painted car. He had shoulder length dark hair and a few days worth of growth on his face.

“Good to meet you both,” Max told them as he began to regain his footing. He then glanced down and immediately lost it again. “Is… is that a flower pot on your hood?”

“Yeah, but people keep picking it whenever it blooms,” Jay explained.

“Who did all these paintings?” Cate asked as she moved around the car. Max could now see that the side facing away from the hostel was decorated with portraits of Jay, Diego and two girls.

“Oh, just various people we’ve met at hostels,” Jay replied with a smile, then pointed at the portraits. “That’s the most recent. An old Irish guy took a week to do that, he even got our girlfriends on there from a couple pictures we have with us.”

“Yeah, now it’s like they’re here with us, it’s pretty sweet,” Diego chipped in.

“That’s incredible,” Max said, a bit awestruck. He crouched down to get a closer look. They were very well done, both drivers immediately recognizable. He could only imagine the kind of reception they got in most towns they stopped in. “And all that writing?”

“Just messages from friends we’ve made along the way,” Diego replied, looking for all the world as if this was completely normal behavior. Max thought he spotted an email address at the end of one scrawled message.

From across the painted car Cate looked at him with a single raised eyebrow. Max made his decision almost instantly.

“So how long will you be joining us here at Mossy’s?”

Friday, October 19, 2007

Some news

Hi all, just wanted to pass something along right quick:

So I entered a short story into a contest that was happening here in Vancouver by the 100 mile diet people - the idea was to share your experiences with eating a local, or mostly local diet. Seeing as Katherine and I have been doing that for most of this year, she managed to convince me to enter.

Well, turns out my (our, really, but Kat keeps insisting 'you wrote it!', so whatever) story won second place. So as soon as it arrives in the mail, Kat and I will be heading over to Capers to spend a nice little gift certificate there. I'm not sure if they'll be publishing the story on their website or not, but if they do I'll toss up a link here.

I'm taking it as a good sign that in the first thing I officially entered I managed to win something. It wasn't fiction, but hey, I'll take it!

Anyway, back to the usual update - the latest installment in the story of Max can be found below. Enjoy!

Mossy's Backpackers #9


“Hey Max! Isn’t this club grand? Not too shabby for such a small town!”

“Greg, stop that.” Max placed his hand on the top of Greg’s head to stop him from nodding his head in time with the incessant beat. “Listen, I don’t think I should’ve had that last shot.”

“Nonsense mate!” He tugged ineffectively at Max’s hand then gave up with a small shrug and began tapping his foot instead.

“What time is it anyway?” Max asked while staring at Greg’s foot. He was trying to decide if he should just give up or stomp on it.

“Just about one, which means it’s about time for the foam!” Greg laughed madly and started back towards the dance floor. Max followed, his hand still firmly on the Englishman’s head.

“Brilliant. And everyone is still here?”

“I think so. Though now that you mention it, I haven’t seen Tobias for a while now.”

“Last time I saw him he was trying to get that waitress to dance with him.”

“Bloody hell,” Greg exclaimed and stopped abruptly. Max, his reflexes utterly shot as of two drinks ago, slammed into his back at full speed. “Ow, you dumb wanker! Anyway, it looks like our Swedish friend has succeeded.”

Max followed Greg’s gaze and soon spotted Tobias dancing energetically with the red haired waitress he had last seen him with. She was still wearing her uniform.

“How the…” Max began but then got sidetracked by something Greg had said earlier. “Hold on, what do you mean it’s about time for the foam?”

“What?” Greg stared at him blankly for a moment before he was able to remember his own comment. “Oh, that. Have you never been to a club that does foam?”

“I don’t really go to clubs much.”


Max raised his voice to be heard over the music and repeated himself. He studiously ignored the glances this earned him from the clubbers around them.

“Oh mate, you’re gonna love it, come on!” Greg assured him, then led the way out into the middle of the dance floor. “And take your bloody hand off me head already!”

Max did so with as much grace as he could. Just as he began to repeat his question about the foam, the music was interrupted by the DJ. He was on the mic shouting something completely indecipherable to Max, but when he was finished everyone else on the floor began cheering wildly.

“Greg, what the –" Max began but stopped short again. The three blue contraptions which had been hanging ominously over the dance floor all night had just sprung into action. As the music began blaring again, the machines started spewing forth foam. Lots and lots of it.

“You have got to be joking mate,” Max told Greg, who was already half covered in suds.

“Just dance, it’s brilliant fun!” Greg responded as he began to whirl his arms furiously. Max shrugged and joined in. Just as he was starting to enjoy himself he slipped on the wet floor and went down hard.

He lay there for a moment, his clothes getting thoroughly soaked, contemplating the value of a quick nap. Before he could reach a decision, Greg hauled him back to his feet.

“Watch yourself there! You’ll get yourself trampled if you keep that up!” Greg yelled, then went back to doing his impression of a windmill.


“What now?” Max squinted at the foam covered face before him for a moment. “Oh, Kisho! What’s up my good old Japanese buddy old pal?”

“I think washing machine overflow!” Kisho yelled, looking a little panicked and a lot drunk. Max briefly considered setting him straight. But then he remembered he was in a club too far from home, covered in too much foam and full of too much booze to ignore this sort of opportunity.

“Yes! Yes, Kisho. I’m glad you found me, there isn’t much time! Here’s what you need to do: get outside as fast as you can, don’t even stop to clean up. Just get out there and tell the first cop you find what’s happening in here. Go!”

Kisho nodded, turned and stormed through the crowd. He somehow managed to not fall down, despite two very close calls. Max was wondering if he should go after him when he was distracted again.

“Greg!” He yelled, just as there was a break between songs, “I think someone just grabbed my arse!”

The dancers surrounding them erupted in cheers and cat calls. Max looked around for a moment, then thrust both arms above his head.

“Thank you!” He yelled. “And a quick follow up: to the five or six people who just grabbed it again – how would you rate it, on a scale of one to ten? One being Rosie O’Donnel, ten being Brad Pitt.”

The general consensus seemed to be an eight or nine before the next song began. Suddenly Greg grabbed him by the arm and started leading him away from the dance floor.

“I think I heard a guy give me a ten!” He told him as they reached their table.

“Yeah, you did,” Greg informed him. “He also winked at you. So maybe it’s time to get back to the hostel.”

“He what? No. No way. Really? No. You’re joking. No. Really?”

“Yes, really. Now shut up, we need to get everyone outside and call a cab.”

“Well, Kisho should be out there already,” Max laughed. “Well, unless he’s been arrested.”

Greg’s eyes widened slightly.

“Why would he be arrested?”

Max told him.

“I guess you were right after all,” Greg told him seriously. “You shouldn’t have had that last shot. Come on, maybe it’s not too late.”

They emerged from the club to find Kisho passed out on the sidewalk. Passer-bys were giving his foam-covered body a wide berth.

“I knew I should have brought my camera,” Max said mournfully.

They each grabbed him under an arm, dragged him over to the wall and sat him against it. Max lowered himself to the ground next to him.

“Go back in and get the others,” he told Greg. “I’ll keep him company.”

Greg stared at him for a moment, trying to come up with a better alternative.

“Alright, just… don’t do anything stupid. I’ll be right back out.”

“We’re just gonna sit here and chat!” Max responded as Kisho began to snore loudly. Max looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. “I agree mate, the lumber industry has gotten out of hand, clear cutting has got to be stopped.” He then promptly passed out.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #8

“This was a brilliant idea Mossy,” Greg called from the other end of the table.

Sitting to Max’s left, Mossy leaned forward to catch Greg’s eye, gave him a wink and a nod, then settled back into his chair. As he did so, Nigel’s perplexed face came back into view.

“Aw’right Max,” he began. “Wot the bloody ‘ell is going on?”

“Guys night out, girls night in,” Mossy boomed with a touch of pride. The big man was obviously pleased with how well his idea had gone over.

“I don’t know if I can add much to Mossy’s wonderful explanation,” Max told him dryly, “but I’ll try. Basically, we’ve rounded up all of the guys staying at the hostel for a night on the town – this dinner being the first stage.”

Max paused for the waiter to clear off his dirty dishes, declining his offer of another beer. The explanation was necessary because the poor Brit had arrived just as the guys were walking out the door. Nigel barely had time to unload his pack before getting stuffed in the back of the hostel’s van.

“We’ve left the hostel to the girls tonight,” he continued, “and next Friday night we’ll do the opposite.”

“Girls night out, guys night in!” Mossy chipped in helpfully.

“Yeah, thanks for that Mossy.” Max rolled his eyes at his boss before returning to Nigel. “So while we’re out dining, shooting pool and whatever else we get up to, the girls have rented a hideous collection of chick-flicks and are doing up a potluck dinner.”

“I gotcha now mate, tanks.” Nigel grinned and went back to stabbing and hacking at his rare hunk of steak. Max looked away before the sight made him ill – as the only vegetarian at the table he had been keeping his eyes on his veggie stir-fry ever since the food had arrived. He did not object to others eating meat, he just preferred not to have to watch it.

“So what happens if a guest shows up right now?” Tim the Texan (as Max had recently dubbed him) asked Mossy from across the table.

“If it’s a guy?” Tobias shot back. “He would think he had just walked into the best hostel on Earth!”

All twelve of the guys wedged around the table burst out laughing, nodding happily and winking at each other.

“And if it’s a girl?” Tim followed up once the table had returned to some semblance of quiet. His question was greeted with sideways glances and silence. Eventually Max broke the quiet.

“She would think, I reckon, that she had just walked into the best hostel on Earth.”

His theory was met with less vigorous nods and rueful agreement.

“We are so bloody unnecessary,” Greg sighed.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Tobias replied, gazing thoughtfully at his empty beer mug. “But I will say that we need them a lot more than they need us.”

“Sperm banks will be the end of us,” Tim announced only half-jokingly. “Once they have enough saved up that’s when they’ll off the whole lot of us!”

“Yeah, I thought I saw a can of Man Be Gone in Cindy’s pants drawer back home,” Greg quipped. “I reckon there’s some secret website they all go to that’ll announce when it’s time for men to go.”

“Alright, that’s enough of that you nitwits,” Mossy laughed. “Settle up your bills and I’ll shuttle you over to the pool hall. I’ve reserved four tables from nine to eleven tonight - after that you lot are on your own. Just remember that the girls have the hostel until one a.m.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a reverse curfew before,” Max responded. “I think I might try that with my kids one day – ‘Alright, go have fun with your friends at the playground and I better not see your cute little face until at least midnight!’ Parent of the year award written all over me I reckon.”

“Oh shut it,” Mossy told him with a wink. The big man finished off his glass of water and fished a few bills out of the front pocket of his blue jeans. “Caitlin has my number and I told her to ring me up if she sees any of your ugly mugs before the ‘reverse curfew’ is up. You do not want that to happen gentlemen – I do not appreciate having my sleep disturbed.”

“Sir! Yes sir!” Greg stood up and gave Mossy a crisp salute – the effect of which he promptly ruined by belching grandly.

“Let’s get out of here before they kick us out,” Mossy muttered to Max. Max gave him a quick nod, dumped some cash on the table to cover his portion of the bill and began herding the guys towards the door. Once everyone was outside he noticed Mossy relax his shoulders and take a deep breath.

“Alright mate?” he asked as they fell into step behind the group.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Mossy replied. “Danny did me a big favor giving us the best table in the house and a nice discount to boot. I just didn’t want to repay him with a scene.”

“Gotcha,” Max told him quietly as they rounded the corner and the hostel’s van came into view. The old blue beast was a bit beat up but still ran like it was brand new. “Don’t worry, we have a good group here. I’ll keep an eye on them after you leave, so don’t give us a second thought.”

“Aw Max, I want you to have a good time too! Don’t spend the whole night babysitting them.”

“Oh I won’t big man. Besides there’s only one of me and ten of them! The best I can promise you is that if anything happens, I’ll do my best to keep your name out of the morning papers.”

Mossy unlocked the side door for the guys and shooed them in. Once everyone was squeezed in, he turned and gave Max a hard look.

“I wish I could say that I know you’re only joking.”

“Me too mate,” Max winked at him and climbed into the passenger seat. “Me too.”

Friday, October 5, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #7

Max sighed and rubbed his temples again. Why was math so much harder on Monday mornings?

Maybe it’s just all those beers you had with Mossy last night, a little voice suggested helpfully.

No, he replied, it’s just always this bad on Mondays. Even when you’re traveling Monday mornings are best when slept through.

He flipped back a couple of pages in the hostel’s reservation book and started over one more time.

“Hey Max, whatcha up to?” Caitlin asked as she poked her head around the corner.

And why, oh why, are decisions made after too many beers so hard to follow through with once you’re sober?

Max gave the voice a little kick as he looked up to reply.

“Heya Caitlin, I’m just…”

“You can call me Cate, ya know,” she said with the slightest hint of a smile playing across her lips.

Well. Cate. That’s an encouraging sign, ain’t it?

Max was too busy fumbling for a reply to deal with the voice this time.

“Oh, sure. I can do that.”

Smooth. Real smooth.

“So whatcha doing behind the desk? I never see you there unless you’re checking someone in.”

“Oh, right.” Max had briefly forgotten he was doing anything at all before Caitl – Cate had appeared. This was going fantastically. “I’m just going through the book to check who’s leaving this week to see how many beds we’ll need to fill. And to figure out if and how much they still owe. Plus, with the way things go here, I like to double check with people…”

“To see if they’re still leaving when they said they would?” Cate broke in.

“Right. Yeah, exactly.” Max realized he had been rambling. He never rambled.

Just go on and tell her already, you stupid fool!

Well, either now or never, he decided.

“Speaking of which,” she began slowly, “remember how I booked in ‘till this Saturday when I rucked up?”

“Yeah, of course.”

He had totally forgotten.

Now what the hell are you gonna do? She’s gone at the end of the week!

“Well, I could only stay the two weeks because I had to be back home for the first week of December. And, you know, there is still heaps I want to see here.”

“Yeah, me too. I just kinda got stuck here.”

Nice! Plant the seed, well done. Now you just need an excuse to go with her.

That wasn’t what I was doing, Max thought. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, actually.

“So what’s happening back home that requires your presence? The only thing that could cut my trip short is a funeral.”

“Close. My little bro was getting married.”

“Oh, sweet as! Is he… wait. Was?”

“Was.” Cate suddenly looked as though she might start crying at any moment.

Oh sh-

“What happened?”

“Well,” she took a deep, steadying breath. “The bride to be, just yesterday in fact, called it off. Apparently she’s run off with one of the groomsmen.”

“Bloody hell. I’m sorry.” Max slid a box of tissues over to her – he didn’t know what else to do. “Are you okay? How is he holding up?”

“He’s my little brother, ya know?” Cate sniffed a little and grabbed a tissue. “And I’m way the hell over here. I called him last night, he’s pretty torn up. Didn’t see it coming at all, he was so happy with her. Not much ya can do over the phone, you know?”

“Yeah, that’s hard,” Max told her wisely. He was not giving her much comfort and he was painfully aware of it. He stood up, needing to do something, anything. The movement must have rattled something loose.

“God, where are my manners? Here, sit down. Can I get you anything? Tea? Tequila?”

“The tequila is tempting,” she said, slumping gratefully into his chair. “But I reckon some tea would be best. This morning anyway. Ask me again tonight.”

“Will do. I’ve got some chamomile in my box, that alright?”

Cate nodded while dabbing at her eyes and Max hustled over to the kitchen to put some water on. While it heated up he grabbed his food box off the bottom shelf of the wooden stand at the far end of the kitchen. After a few moments of rustling around he found the tea box and tossed it on the counter behind him. Just before putting his bin back he decided to take the honey out as well.

Good call. Honey cures all.

He grabbed the hostel’s two biggest mugs and placed a tea bag in each, trying to collect his thoughts.

Now doesn’t seem like the best possible time to tell her how you feel about her.

“Thanks, Sherlock,” Max muttered under his breath. As soon as the water was hot enough he filled the two mugs and brought them back to the check-in desk.

“Thanks very much Max.” Cate had managed to collect herself a bit and no longer looked to be on the verge of breaking down. “I’m sorry to dump on you, I hadn’t meant to. I just wanted to adjust my booking.”

“Don’t apologize, it’s no problem. Let me know if I can do anything else,” he reassured her. “So I… I guess you’ll be leaving us a bit sooner now?”

“No,” she sighed and rolled her eyes. “Stu, my brother, insisted that I don’t cut my trip short. Says he’d feel even worse. And seeing as the reason I had to be home early has suddenly vanished, he rather strongly suggested I extend my whole trip. Wants some good to come of it I guess.”

“So, ah… what are you going to do?” Max had to fight to keep his tone neutral.

“I love Stu and I want to be there for him. But he meant it and deep down I know he’s right.” Cate took a sip of her tea and looked up at him. “So is it okay if I stay on a bit longer? Is there room for me?”

“Of course.” Max tried to keep his smile small but he could feel his face ignoring him. He took a sip from his own mug to try to hide it. “How long are you thinking?”

“Right now? Indefinitely, I guess. This place just… feels like a second home. Weird how quickly that happens, isn’t it?”

“Welcome to Mossy’s Backpackers,” he told her, letting loose his smile this time. He leaned down and clinked his mug against hers. “Stay as long as you like.”

Friday, September 28, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #6

“… so that’s about it,” Max finished. “What do you think I should do?”

He leaned back in his chair and watched Mossy closely as the big man mulled it over. They were seated at a relatively quiet table far from the entrance of the pub, the remains of their fish and chips littering the table top between them.

The juke box switched from one God-awful 80’s song to another as Mossy took a long swallow of beer and placed his mug back on the table without rattling a fork.

“Well,” he began at last, “what’s the worst that could happen if you tell Caitlin how you feel about her?”

“Let me see,” Max said slowly. “She says no thanks. We endure working together with awkward silences and even more awkward small talk. Eventually, one of us can’t take it any more and leaves the hostel.”

“Yes, but…” Mossy tilted his head back and studied the ceiling fan for a few moments, then returned his gaze to Max. “Alright, yeah, that would suck. A lot.”

“Thanks mate.”

“Have I ever told you how I met my wife?” Mossy asked suddenly.

Max stared at him, trying to figure out if he was joking or not.

“Mossy… mate… you never even told me you were married.”

“Oh,” Mossy shifted a bit in his seat and glanced away. “Sorry Max, I like to keep my private and business life separate. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Think nothing of it,” Max told him with a smile, trying to hide his surprise at seeing this side of his boss. Almost as an afterthought, he glanced down. “Oh good, I’m not a completely ignorant fool, you’re not wearing a ring.”

“I wear it on a necklace,” Mossy replied, patting his chest. “It doesn’t ah… fit on any of my fingers.”

“I knew you were Bigfoot in disguise, I just knew it. So how come she never comes by the hostel?”

“The hostel is my passion, not hers. She leaves me to it and I,” Mossy shivered dramatically, “I leave her to her law firm.”

“A lawyer? I can’t picture you being married to a lawyer, mate. Well, go on; tell me all about how you met Mrs. Mossy.”

“Mrs. Mossy?” he snorted quite indelicately. “Her name is Ana.” He shifted in his chair again. If Max had not known better he would have thought Mossy was blushing. “We met at the University of Southern California in ’79. It was my last year of studying Environmental Sciences and she was doing a year long exchange from Switzerland.”

“A Swiss Miss? Very nice!”

“Do you want to hear this or not?”

“Yes, sir. Shutting up, sir.”

“A mutual friend threw a Halloween party where we met and sparked almost instantly.” Max drowned the urge to ask what they were dressed as with a swig of beer. “But nothing came of it at first – we were both very much interested but at the end of the year she would be going home and I’d be coming back here.”

“Another round boys?” asked the waitress who had once again appeared at Max’s side from out of nowhere. He guessed she was in her early forties, although it was impossible to know for sure with the five layers of makeup she was wearing.

“Yes please Eve,” Mossy told her.

“Be back in a flash!” she announced with a big smile and whirled away, once again leaving the dinner plates untouched. Max shook his head, then motioned for Mossy to continue.

“Well, Ana went home to spend Christmas break with her family so I got a little taste of not having her around.” Mossy cleared his throat noisily. “It bloody well sucked.”

“So you went for it.”

“Damn rights I did! I met her at the airport with the biggest bouquet of tulips I could get my hands on and told her I wanted to give us a shot. After a twelve hour flight she didn’t stand a chance.”

Max laughed, clinked his mug against Mossy’s and emptied the last of his beer just in time for the next round to arrive.

“This one’s on the house boys!” Eve told them before dashing off again.

“You reckon she expects us to eat those?” Max asked, indicating their neglected empty plates. Mossy let loose a booming burp in response. “Fair enough. So four months was enough time for your obvious charms to take hold and she came back here with you?”

“When you find something precious in this life Max,” he answered, beginning to slur his esses slightly, “you don’t let it go without a fight.”

Max rolled this around in his head for a few minutes, periodically sipping from his newly arrived beer. He was pretty sure it tasted better than the ones he would be paying for. But wasn’t that always the way?

“Well, I’d hate for this to be something I regret not doing. And what fun is life if you never take any chances?”

“Exactly! Exactly. Life is too short for regrets!” Mossy finished off his free beer and thumped it back onto the table, sending a fork skittering to the floor. Oblivious to the clatter, he carried on. “Besides, if yer single much longer Eve just might up and club ya over the noggin’ and drag yer arse to Father Timothy!”

Max barely managed to avoid choking on his drink.

“What? Yeah right mate!” he spluttered. “It’s you she’s got eyes for!”

“Nah Max, she’s met Ana.” Mossy winked grandly at him. “She knows better than to stick her nose in that hornet nest!” The big man roared with laughter and came dangerously close to falling out of his chair. No one in the pub seemed to notice.

“Alright, alright. One more round of darts and then we go?”

“I’m not sure either of us should be tossing arrows at this point – we might make a bull’s-eye out of someone’s bottom!”

“God, you sound like a teenager. It’ll be fine, come on.” Max stood up with as much dignity as he could muster, which was not much. At least he wasn’t swaying too much, as best he could tell anyway.

“You just want to impress Eve, I understand.”

“Go to hell Mossy.”

“No, it’s ok, it’s ok. I’m sure that if ya dig through two or three inches of makeup you’d find a very attractive woman!”

“Let’s get out of here,” Max said as he tossed some cash onto the table. Then he turned and, without looking to see if Mossy followed, weaved his way through the crowd and into the fresh night air.