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A look into “The Broken World” by Tom Vandel

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By Tucker Harris EBS STAFF

Author Tom Vandel

BIG SKY – If you were to ask author Tom Vandel for his favorite places in the world, his response would be Rome, Paris, New York City, and Butte, Montana. Vandel grew up in Billings, attended University of Montana, and now resides part-time between Big Sky, Montana and Portland, Oregon. He loves to travel down Montana’s backroads, stopping in little bars along the way, drinking a cold Rainier, and meeting individuals and hearing their stories. These stories are the inspiration for much of his writing, including many of the stories in his newest book, “The Broken World.”

A collection of short stories published on Oct. 21, “The Broken World” highlights broken relationships and people with a little bit of humor woven in. Using short and punchy language, each story is pulled from the people and places which Vandel has met or experienced throughout his travels. The first short story, “The Men and the Lake” takes place on Flathead Lake, south of Glacier National Park. Vandel recreates the true story of his friend who mysteriously drowned in Great Bear Lake with his own twist.

Below is an excerpt from “The Men and the Lake” a short story in “The Broken World.” Written in verse format, the lines ebb and flow on the page like waves, reflecting the emotions of joy and sadness rising and falling in the story.

We could talk about the men and the lake.

Friends since third grade,

They grew up on Wyoming Avenue in Billings, five houses apart,

Throwing rocks and snowballs and insults at other kids,

And each other.

And making themselves crack up. Two crazy loons.

One confident and competitive,

The other snarky and who-gives-a-shit.

Conner and Mason. Known to friends as Connie and Mace.

After high school, Conner went to college and moved to Seattle.

Worked as an engineer, married a high school classmate,

Had a son and daughter.

Mason held odd jobs, became a teacher,

Married a woman from Edmonton. No offspring.

They drifted apart for a decade, then nature (or fish, or fate),

Flung them back together again, like old times.

They reconnected over a shared love of

Angling, drinking, and

Sports trivia.

Both had a deep

Love for Roberto Clemente,

The baseball legend who perished when his

Cargo plane crashed into the sea during a

Relief mission to Nicaragua.

It’d been eight years since Conner and Mason last

Caught big fish together.

On a summer fishing

Trip to Great Bear Lake in the far north.

Mason wanted to catch one more whopper

Before he died, he said, laughing.

He wanted them to

Go back to the Great Bear.

Conner said it was a brilliant idea.

And wondered if Mason was sober. He seemed lucid.

Mason assured him he was. Conner responded that the

Proposal was sound,

But Great Bear Lake was not possible. Not this year.

He flashed on an alternative instead.

How about Flathead Lake?

Northwest Montana instead of Northwest Territories.

Go in mid-September when kids and fish are back in school.

There are huge trout in Flathead, Conner told him.

Mason had never fished Flathead.

He bit and the trip was booked.

Flathead Lake is an immense, 

Breathtaking body of water,

Just forty miles south of Glacier National Park.

Born out of the ice age from the glacial waters of

Ancient Lake Missoula.

Near 30 miles long and 17 miles wide,

With a depth of up to 370 feet,

Flathead is one of

The largest freshwater lakes in the nation.

Home to millions of fish.

Lake trout, bull trout, pike, whitefish, yellow perch.

And, according to legend,

One monster.

Sightings of a strange,

Undefined creature have

Been surfacing since the late 1800s.

Those who claim to have seen it say it looks like a

Dark, snaky eel crossing the water.

Others think it’s something else.

A huge, rare white sturgeon.

Never before caught.

The great white sturgeon some dubbed it.

Conner and Mason hoped to see. It. Or, better yet, catch it.

That week at Flathead was heavenly.

Days in the low 80s.

Water hovering in the high 60s.

Plenty warm enough to swim in, which they did off their dock,

Every day after lunch, when fish took a siesta.

The conditions were perfect.

Until they weren’t.

Turns out,

The monster wasn’t in the lake.

It was in the sky.

Lurking.

“The Broken World” can be found at Barnes & Noble, Target, and on Amazon.

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