Camels in the Newfoundland Desert

May 2017

MELVIN WAS OUT at his crab pots when the first boats came, their guns pointed right at him. Jesus. Pirates in Conception Bay?

“Morning,” he says. “Looking for somebody?”

“Canada,” says the guy with the AK47.

“This here’s Newfoundland,” Melvin says.

And the guy yells back over his shoulder, “Come too far. Got to the North Pole.”

“Keep heading that way. You’ll come to the ocean again and you can cross to Canada.”  Melvin didn’t much like the look of him.

“How far?”

“Nice bit.”

That was the first wave. Next thing, Melvin was made a temporary coast guard and all up the coast they were told Relieve all Arrivals of Weapons. Hoist the Disarming Smiles. Not your usual refugees these—no food, no belongings. Just packing heat.

President Trump had sealed the land borders but Newfoundland’s coast is porous and guys like Melvin were told to block the pores. Some people were calling them The Blackheads.

The boats had been caught in the Gulf Stream, taken northeast and stranded in a fog bank, so by the time they found land they were wobble-legged and ravenous and Melvin would wave his white flag and his Welcome sign and turn up his Disarming Smile.

“If you’ll step along this way the Missus has some soup to warm you fellas.”

It was good strong moose stew with a load of turnip and potato from all the root cellars and a nice lacing of moose tranquiliser. So while the Americans were sleeping it off they would gather up the guns, store them in the root cellars and camouflage them with brush.

But there was always one awkward cuss who hugged his guns and didn’t sleep and then they had to go to Plan B.

“There’s a crowd up ahead of ye guys. Bit more lively than this bunch. Could catch up with them if you don’t mind a ride on a moose.”

“Moose?”

“Camels in deserts. Moose around here.”

Plan B was a groggy, half-tranquilised moose, and they’d rigged up a saddle. So they would hoist buddy on its back and tell him to grab those handles up front and slap its rump so it took off into the woods, and they’d hear crashing and buddy yelling for a bit, then nothing. They’d go pick him up in a minute, after Melvin sent off a text. All rendered armless.

Camels in the Newfoundland Desert is part of a NQ short fiction series called “When NL Saved Canada.”  I sent the headline from a 1940’s NQ column to a local writing group and asked for their short fiction responses. Five of those stories will be published in NQ. Susan Sinnott is part of the Port Authority writing group. You can find the other stories here.

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BY Shannon Webb-Campbell

While I was home in Newfoundland this past summer, I was given a copy of a series of graphic novels by David Alexander Robinson dubbed Tales from Shadow River, illustrated stories about Indigenous people (Highwater Press). The Healer: Mary Webb, retells the life of my paternal great-great-grandmother, Mary Webb, a Mi’kmaq healer and midwife to 700 babies around Bay St Georges on NL’s west coast.