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Unhanged Arthur: "Gunning for Bear" by Madeleine Harris-Callway

This week, we are publishing excerpts from the five manuscripts up for this year’s Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel, presented by the Crime Writers of Canada. 

In today’s excerpt… a man on a hunting trip ingests some strange mushrooms and has difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. 

an excerpt from Gunning for Bear, by Madeleine Harris-Callway:

Danny breathed in deeply, letting the pungent pine sap purge his spirit of the hunters’ meaty white presence. 

Doing ‘shrooms wasn’t smart since he ought to stay alert, but…

He ate his usual number. 

Then one more.

An Ice Age boulder had carved a natural hollow in the granite beneath him. He settled his back into it, breathing quietly. 


He felt himself falling through the soft fist of rock, tumbling, plunging into the clear lake water. Oh, God, I’m drowning, he thought. Breathing water without knowing it. Or was he? Huxley’s one-way door had closed and he was lost in the fun-house of perception.

The hard ground left his back, and he was soaring on an iridescent dragon fly that droned through the air. Fire Lake fell away like a sheet of dark metal and they shot past acres and acres of green forest, wilderness as far as the eye could see. 
No light penetrated through the trees. Their branches arched over him, forming a dark cave. Something stirred, a matted black bear skin that rose from the ground and took form. No flesh, no bones. Only air behind its eye holes. He pressed his face close to the black snout - still moist—and asked it what it wanted.

Are you a spirit?  

Black ooze crept from the eyes. The white teeth parted and the stench of decay rolled over him.

I’m sorry, Pasha. I’m so sorry. 

He buried his face in his hands, but tears were useless. Nothing would make it better. Ever.

Shivering and wet with dew, he sat up. His back and muscles ached from the cold rock that had drained the warmth right out of him. A thick blanket of white mist lay over the water, obscuring the dawn, drawing colour out of the world. Was he still ripped? He rubbed his face, shook his long hair. Standing up shakily, he felt a surge of tell-tale nausea, the flu-like fatigue that would dog him for three days.

The ‘shrooms must be done. Must be morning.

He stumbled down to the slate-grey shards of the beach where he’d been sitting last night. A flash of gold. Something was floating in the water, bobbing gently with the wavelets slapping the stones. 

He blinked. What was it? A dead fish? Without thinking, he waded into the lake to get a closer look.

A white arm stretched out through the clear water, fine blond hairs waving like sea-weed, fingers spread like a starfish above a gold-linked bracelet.

Oh, God, Danny thought. It’s a flashback, that’s all. A mirage.

He scrambled back out. 

Heart thundering in his thin chest, he staggered down the trail to the lodge. Darkness slept under the trees, the way he’d dreamed it last night. Utter silence except for his panting breath. Too early, too early, he chanted silently. He’d find the hunters asleep. Remnants of the ‘shrooms lurked in his system. He couldn’t be sure about reality just yet. 

He reached the clearing.

He smelled it then, the rank sewage smell of venting bowels, the metallic slaughterhouse reek of blood. 

The hunters were lying all over, splattered in garish colours. Humans couldn’t bend that way, could they? Blood congealed in gaping wounds.

Dead, all dead.

A screech of panic tore out of his throat. The screams kept bursting from deep within, and he couldn’t stop them even when he clapped his hands over his ears to shut out his own noise.

No one knew where he was. The bush plane wouldn’t be back for two days.

And there was no way off the island.


Madeleine Harris-Callway is an award-winning mystery author whose stories have appeared in several crime fiction magazines and anthologies, including Going Out with a Bang. Her novel, Gunning for Bear, was previously short-listed for the 2009 Debut Dagger Award (as The Land of  Sun and Fun). An avid cyclist, runner and downhill skier, she participates every year in the Toronto Ride to Conquer Cancer. She and her husband share their Victorian home with two spoiled cats. 

Photo by: Claire Callway

Established in 2007, the Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel is one of the prestigious Arthur Ellis Awards. Bestowed each year by the Crime Writers of Canada, this year’s winner will be announced at the Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet held on May 31 in Toronto.

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