By: Timothy W. Arnzen
Do you believe in ghosts? I mean truly believe in the possibility of an unexplained supernatural spirit? Perhaps you have walked into a room and mysteriously felt a sudden temperature drop as the little hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up. Many individuals swear by their belief in the supernatural and have a whole host of reasons for doing so. Others- not so much. What everyone does have in common however is the desire to see their departed loved ones again. Frequently, such passion even has the non-believers secretly longing for there to be some truth to the existence of ghosts. Careful to not outwardly reveal their feelings however, they may deny this desire and ridicule believers as silly and misguided. In his short story Montana Strawberries, author Timothy W. Arnzen presents a story which explores this fascination with the supernatural. A great little read for believers and skeptics alike.
Essentially, this short story focuses upon the main protagonist Melissa, and her “ghostly” experiences in the family garden. While picking strawberries with her Grandmother one day, she is informed that her departed Great Grandmother and young cousin’s ghosts have been spotted by other family members roaming in the strawberry patch at night. Determined to see if there is any actual accuracy to this “paranormal rumor”, Melissa sets out on her own to discover the truth. Each night she stakes out the garden seeking the ghostly evidence which will support such a claim. Will Melissa actually find what it is she is looking for? And if so… will anyone even take her seriously? After all, finding evidence of the afterlife is really only half of the battle. Convincing others about the authenticity of the claim is the other!
Montana Strawberries is a very short story. It is actually only 12 pages in length. That in itself creates quite a challenge for any author. How can you possibly develop memorable characters and get the reader actively engaged in such a short piece? The answer to that question in this particular story is the creation of a compelling theme which is capably supported by provoking emotions in the reader. Indeed, the theme of family is prevalent in this tale and that comes rife with emotion! As readers, we can all identify with this motif as it capitalizes upon our innermost feelings of love, joy and grief. Grief because we have lost somebody we love, but joy when presented with the opportunity to see them once again. All of this comes together in a clever ghost tale which uses suspense and inner conflict to support the story events.
The story really reminded me of an encounter I experienced in my personal life. My Grandfather had recently passed away and I was helping to clear out his possessions from the family cottage. When I had stopped to take a break, I went out to sit by the lake and watch the rolling waves and elusive loons who would quickly dive underwater at any overt sign of movement. The skittish loons were my Grandfather’s favourite creatures. He would sit watching them for hours and was often mesmerized by their haunting calls. On this particular day however, the loon I was watching paddled straight towards me in the water. Not only that, but when it reached my position it actually lifted itself up out of the water and upon the dock. It sat there simply staring at me. That just does not happen! That was my Grandfather’s spirit saying goodbye.
You may be asking why I shared that moment with you? Well… that was a powerful moment in my own life and has left a lifelong imprint upon me. This encounter evoked potent emotions which I still have difficulty comprehending to this very day. In Montana Strawberries, author Timothy Arnzen shows that he understands the pure power of family and the unknown. The story is peppered with it! As the protagonist, Melissa depicts the potential joy and awe which such encounters can bring. Her Grandmother on the other hand represents missed opportunity and regret.
The theme and character building in this story is all supported by the smooth and beautiful writing of the author. It absolutely has a poetic quality to it. The descriptions are meticulous without becoming too protracted or tedious. Emotive language is utilized to immerse the reader in the story and keep them beguiled until the final page.
As mentioned, this is a very short story. While that may turn some readers off, it is quite impressive what the author is able to accomplish in 12 pages. To me personally, a good read is all about how you feel after you have completed the work. What does it make you think or feel? This tale leaves an indelible impact!
5 out of 5 Emotive Stars for this one! *****