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.