About the Author

Colleen Nelson

Colleen Nelson is the author of Tori By Design, which won the 2012 McNally Robinson Young Adult Book Award and was nominated for a 2012 Snow Willow Award, as well as one other novel for young readers, The Fall. As a middle years teacher and an avid reader of young adult fiction, Colleen is inspired by her visits to schools and interactions with young people. Born in Winnipeg, she lives there to this day.

Books by this Author
250 Hours

250 Hours

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Blood Brothers

The sky gets pink close to dawn. Night bleeds away as the sun breathes life into day.
My finger throbs. The tip of it numb and sticky with paint. The street lamps flicker off as I stand back to survey my night’s work.
Huge swoops of colour light up the background, like my tag has landed in a puddle of rainbow slime. “Morf,” my other self, glows in bubble letters meant to look like liquid metal. All graff writers have a handle. Mine means something. To change, to morph. To become something else: a metamorphosis.
With a satisfied sigh, I turn my back on the side of the building and stuff spray cans, my bandana, and black book into my backpack. Hidden in shadows, I scale down the fire escape and drop to the alley, the cans in my pack rattling. In a few hours, people walking to the bus will look up and see my name flash before them. It wasn’t there yesterday. They’d never even noticed that building before. But, now, my name slaps them in the face. They can’t ignore me. My name looms above, stomping on them.
Two guys stumble out of a house party. I watch as they try to open the latch on the chain-link gate. Too many fumbling fingers. They’ll be trapped in the yard till their vision clears, or they pass out.
The rooming house rises up between two empty lots. The city tore down one house a few years ago and the other burned to the ground. Arson, the cops said. I smelled the smoke in my dream. Dad yelled at me to wake up as he tried to scoop me up, like he still had the strength to carry me. We made it out and watched from across the street, huddled in a blanket as flames engulfed the building. Two people died in the fire and I had nightmares for weeks.
There’s two cop cars, their lights flashing, in front of the rooming house. The blue and red orb spins, reflecting off the windows. Shrugging off my backpack, I ditch it in the empty lot next door. I know they aren’t there for me, but my heart pounds anyway. I swear and kick at a stone. If the sirens wake up my dad, he’ll see I’m not asleep on the couch where I’m supposed to be.
Without my backpack, I feel naked, exposed. It’s like battle armour. I eye the cops; a couple of them mill around the front yard, blocking my entrance. No police tape is up yet. That’s a good sign. Means no one is dead. One of them looks at me, doesn’t bother to question why I’m returning home at this time of the night. I was ready with an excuse if he had: I fell asleep at my best friend Lincoln’s house.
I put my head down and brush past them, taking the steps in two strides. Two more cops stand outside 1D. The McLarens. Mr. and Mrs. Domestic Abuse. Should have guessed.
I cried angry tears the first night we moved to this place. When the landlady, Laureen, opened the door to the apartment, Dad and I froze in the hallway; neither one of us wanted to walk inside. It stank. Like piss and body odour. Laureen had promised to have it cleaned before we moved in. But she couldn’t do anything about the stains on the floor or the foam exploding from the couch cushions. Dad explained why we were moving from our two-bedroom apartment to the rooming house. There was no choice. They raised the rent and he couldn’t afford it anymore, not even with a housing subsidy. If we wanted a roof over our heads, this was it.
Laureen gave Dad two keys, held together by a red twist tie. He gulped and stuffed them in his pocket like he didn’t want to admit they belonged to him. I knew what Dad was thinking, what he was always thinking. This wasn’t the life he moved here for. We’d be better off in Poland than living in this shithole. But, he made his choice twenty years ago, promising my mom a life in Canada. They’d escaped under a barbed wire fence and hid in the trunk of a car, then relied on the kindness of strangers. And for what? So my mom could die after giving birth to me and Dad could end up with a mangled leg from his job at the train yard.
He could feel sorry for himself, but he doesn’t. Polish pride, he calls it. There are some things that are non-negotiable: church every Sunday, good grades, and good food. No matter how tight things are, Dad always has a meal ready for me. I come home from school to find him limping between the sink and stove, boiling potatoes or stirring soup. My brain needs food, he says. We won’t have empty stomachs. That was one thing we’ll never have, empty stomachs. He had enough of that in Poland. A boy can’t grow or succeed in school with hunger pains to distract him.
He probably should have been a chef. He hums to himself, old Polish folk tunes, when he cooks, his fingers turning crimson with beet juice. Or love songs, if he’s feeling nostalgic, glancing up at the one photo we have of my mom. Grainy and out of focus, she’s standing in front of the church, the golden spire rising from a white dome, a mosaic of the holy family glinting in the sun. Scrawny legs, made scrawnier by the fullness of her skirt, and bushy curls obscuring most of her face.
Father Dominic stopped by the apartment soon after we moved in. Taking a look around, he skimmed over the books and his eyes came to rest on the crucifix perched above the couch. He nodded at it, like he was greeting a friend. Father Dominic had baptized me and stood over my mother in the hospital as she took her last breath. All in the same week. It was touch and go with me in those early days. No one knew if I’d make it or not. I don’t ask a lot of questions about what happened. Dad doesn’t like to talk about it. Says I’m a blessing from God, no matter what. But then he gets teary and quiet.
The door clicks shut behind me. I half expect Dad to be sitting up waiting for me. But he’s a heavy sleeper. Sirens in the night are so common, we’ve both learned to sleep through them. His snores fill the apartment, a low rumbly wheeze.
I pull back the sheet and blanket on the couch, leaving my jacket on the armrest. Closing my eyes, I picture the newly marked building. Like a baptism, I christened it mine.
I’ll walk past it in the morning, to see how the colours look in daylight. I drift off to sleep content. I accomplished something this night. No one could accuse me of not leaving my mark on the world. It was there, for all to see.

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