Today on the site we’re checking out a snippet from After Elias by Eddy Boudel Tan, a contemporary adult novel that just released from Dundurn about an engaged gay couple ripped apart by a tragic plane crash right before their wedding. In the words of the author, “The story takes place in a mature phase of queerness, one in which the protagonist’s identity as a queer man is neither an issue nor a secret. It examines what we strive for now that we’ve achieved the current level of normality — one that previous generations fought for — while recognizing the reality that the suffering endured is never far from reach.” You can read the official blurb here:
When the airplane piloted by Elias Santos crashes one week before their wedding day, Coen Caraway loses the man he loves and the illusion of happiness he has worked so hard to create. The only thing Elias leaves behind is a recording of his final words, and even Coen is baffled by the cryptic message.
Numb with grief, he takes refuge on the Mexican island that was meant to host their wedding. But as fragments of the past come to the surface in the aftermath of the tragedy, Coen is forced to question everything he thought he knew about Elias and their life together. Beneath his flawed memory lies the truth about Elias — and himself.
From the damp concrete of Vancouver to the spoiled shores of Mexico, After Elias braids the past with the present to tell a story of doubt, regret, and the fear of losing everything.
And here’s the excerpt!
Nine hours after the crash
I was nine years old when I discovered that I wasn’t afraid of death.
The heat of the sun on my bare shoulders and the chill of the wet concrete under my feet was a troubling combination for me that day.
The other children, all wild eyes and unpredictable limbs, howled like apes around a watering hole. They bared their teeth as they chased each other. They banded together to lay claim to their territories. I was careful to stay out of the path of the other boys, my eyes averted from theirs and my fists clenched by my side.
It was a relief to pull my head beneath the surface of the water. The noise from above became a muffled hum. The sting of the sun softened. I felt the grip on my mind loosen as I submerged myself in stillness.
My senses awoke as another body collided into mine. My feet stretched down toward the floor, expecting to feel the reassurance of its tiles. There was only empty space.
My hands reached up and grabbed fistfuls of water. I managed to reach the surface for a gasp of air before I was pulled underneath again by an invisible hand. Every kick of my legs and stroke of my arms reeled me farther down. I held my breath for as long as I could, then let it all out in a swarm of bubbles. My limbs went still as I closed my eyes.
I didn’t feel fear. I felt a deep and wonderful calm. I wonder what happens now, I remember thinking.
My breath returned in violent coughs and purged chlorine as I lay on the wet concrete of the pool’s edge. There was a look of wonder in the eyes that stared down at me, as though I had risen from the dead. The first thought that came to me was I must have been Aztec.
Come to think of it now, I’d always been a different kind of boy.
You see, the Aztecs didn’t fear death. They believed it was glorious. Death perpetuated creation. Without it, there would be no life. Their bones were the seeds from which new life grew. Their blood watered the dry earth. Both humans and gods sacrificed their lives so this wheel of conclusion and creation would continue to spin on and on.
After that final breath, Aztecs travelled to one of three places. Those with honourable endings, like warriors in battle, would transform into hummingbirds to follow the sun. Those who met their end by water would find themselves in a paradise of eternal spring. The majority would not be so lucky. Their journey would take them to the underworld of Mictlan, a hellish place guarded by jaguars in a river of blood.
Reading about this as a boy, it seemed unfair to me how the most terrible human beings could so easily escape an eternity of bloody jaguars. Had things ended differently that summer day at the pool, I would have found myself in paradise by simply drifting too far into the deep end. However flawed it may be, it’s a beguiling idea. Your life is irrelevant. Your death is what counts.
Eddy Boudel Tan is the author of After Elias and The Rebellious Tide (forthcoming 2021). His work depicts a world much like our own — the heroes are flawed, truth is distorted, and there is as much hope as there is heartbreak. Besides having professional experience in communications strategy and brand design, he serves home-cooked meals to the homeless as cofounder of a community initiative called the Sidewalk Supper Project. He lives with his husband in Vancouver.