The Flat Earth Society

Mary Jane


At 3:30 in the morning, the cell phone under my pillow vibrated impatiently like a trapped bumblebee. I place it there strategically to alert the constabulary in case Big Eddie, Minister of Outports and Environmental Destruction, decides to send his goons to our humble abode in the dead of night.

"It's RS from MP," hissed a whispering voice. "Where have you been the last few days?"

"I've been out to Quidi Vidi Lake harvesting a few of those fat spring ducks for the dinner table," I said.

"Well, all hell is about to spring loose up here on the hill," he said. "Dear Leader, Duh-wite, passed out free samples of weed to his Liberal yes-persons. They're hitting it pretty hard. I got a free sample from Dr. Dale. It gave me hallucinations. You should try some."

"Get to the point," I said. "I have to get up early in the morning and scrounge for some food in Sobeys garbage bins."

"OK, here's the scoop," said RS from MP, "Big Eddie's gone paranoid--he thinks everybody's out to get him and he's challenging all comers to a fist-fight out on the parkway. Dr. Dale is even worse--he thinks he sits on the right hand of Dear Leader and he's preaching to everybody. "Greater love hath no man than I have for community libraries," he said yesterday. 

"Oh shit, here comes Big Eddie bouncing off the walls--one last thing, Dear Leader, Duh-wite, is pissed and he's going to fire the whole lot and set up a benevolent dictatorship so he can give himself unlimited forgivable loans and build more apartments for poor people. Gotta go, I'll send you some of this weed.

Fortunately, I didn't wake spouse. She doesn't like interrupted dreams when she is in the process of recharging her batteries for the next day's labours at the convenience store down the street where she has been elevated to a position as manager of marijuana sales--a lateral promotion at minimum wage. The job is only half time, so she sleeps in until 11:30 and expects a bowl of maple nut oatmeal in bed right away--she said it makes her feel rich and pampered.

'Rich' of course is her way of saying we perch precariously on borderline poverty, a condition visited on us by the taxes and fees unleashed by the Ball-faced Liberals in 2016.

The extra $223 every two weeks won't even pay the Muskrat Falls bill a year down the road unless we can finagle our way into one of Dear Leader's low-income housing units in Deer Lake.

To prepare for her enhanced responsibility, spouse attended several unpaid day-long training seminars at the Liquor Corporation headquarters over on Kenmount. Solemn Tom, Minister of Taxes, came by to give a pep talk but he made everybody depressed when he started talking about bankruptcy. "You are the front line for making us feel better in the future," he said by way of inspiring the group.

During the seminar, spouse became somewhat of an expert on weed. She tells me there are as many varietals of fine marijuana as there are fine wines. She goes on and on about bouquet and flowery notes and even cooking with weed.

"There'll be no more Fifty Shades of Bay for me," she said. 

The thought occurs to me that she has been handed some free samples.

"I always thought weed was weed," I said."It always smelled like some dead animal."

"You have no idea," she said.

As I try to follow the news on the people's channel, spouse goes on and on about the different varietals.

"Take Mango OG, for example," she said, "rich mango notes with a hint of lemon, for toking when the House of Assembly is in session, provides a happy, relaxed feeling, and makes one feel detached from reality."

"Yes, we'll have to get some of that," I say absent-mindedly as I try to focus on the breaking news about the chaos around Dear Leader.

"I have to go outside and whistle to the Northern lights," said spouse.

On the news, there is a story about Dr. Dale, Minister of Illiteracy, who now thinks he's the Apostle Peter. He has accused his colleagues of planting a sloppy Judas kiss smack on the mouth of Dear Leader, Duh-wite. "There is no greater violation of trust, I am saddened and disillusioned," he warns the other disciples.

Then Dear leader makes a statement telling Dr. Dale to return his sword to its place.

"For all those who take up the sword, will perish by the sword," spaketh Dear Leader. Then he announces that Dr, Dale is no longer one of the eleven disciples (twelve, if you count the new lieutenant-governor).

"There's blood on the cabinet room floor," I shout as I dance around the living room in celebration. I reach for my bottle of Raspberry Screech.

"I have to go out on the deck and admire the May Day moon," said spouse.

"Triple Diesel," says spouse, five minutes later when she returns, "now, that's one you shouldn't toke--it has the aroma of a tunnel-boring machine cutting through bedrock under the Straits of Belle Isle. If you have real responsibilities, don't toke it during the day.

Is this what Codfish Crocker, Minister of Ferries, was smoking when he was on TV the other day talking about a train tunnel to Labrador, I wonder.

"And then there's Trainwreck," says spouse, "with a bouquet like Sunday's boiled cabbage. Too much on a daily basis can lead to chaos, random thinking, and short-term memory problems."

"So, that's what's causing all the brain farts coming from our politicians, lately," I said. "What we need is something that will make us forget our trials, tribulations, taxes, and the stench of Muskrat Falls--something that will make us roll around on the carpet and admire the ceiling."

"I have just the thing," said spouse as if she were reading from a script. "Jack Flash is spicy, yet fruity. Cures anxiety and is good for flushing the mind. With this stash, we'll never have another worry."

Spouse tells me she has to go outside to admire the stars.

"But, there's a blizzard on," I said.

I suspect she's been having a secret rendezvous with Jack Flash.

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Dancing on Air: New Edition: New Publisher

Dancing on Air

The revised edition of Dancing on Air(Boulder Publications) is now available from Boulder -- also from Chapters/Indigo and Coles bookstores across Canada as well as at

Advance Reviews:

     "What a fascinating read this is. It has all the suspense of a true crime novel ...Newfoundland itself emerges as a colorful character..." -- editor, Friesen Press

     "In Dancing on Air, Eric Colbourne exposes the raw politics and behind the scenes intrigue of critical events in Newfoundland and Labrador history. In the process, he has skilfully unveiled the human faces of tragedies which have remained with us for well over half a century."   --Mervin Wiseman, Political Activist, NL.

     "This is a great way to present history. It's emotionally engaging, highly instructive, and jam-packed with fascinating details."  --Editor, Friesen Press.

     Dancing on Air: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland is a story of justice and injustice amidst war and political upheaval.

     On St. Patrick's Day, 1942 Herb Spratt, the youngest son of a prominent St. John's city councilor, murdered his girlfriend, Josephine O'Brien. A weak defense at a two day trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland resulted in a guilty verdict coupled with a strong recommendation for mercy. The chief justice pronounced a sentence of death on April 28, 1942, but that was not the end of the story.

     Six years later, on October 23, 1948, during a night of terror in the town of Norris Arm on the central north coast of the island, Alfred Beaton stabbed his girlfriend and shot to death another young woman. At least 10 other individuals narrowly escaped death as Beaton rampaged through the community with a high powered rifle.

     Beaton went to trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland on January 31, 1949. The jury returned a guilty verdict without a recommendation for mercy. The chief justice again imposed the death penalty.

Alfred Beaton (center) after the death sentence

The incidents come together as a gripping account of a flawed justice system and of the impact of public opinion. With its cast of powerful characters, the story reads like fiction but what happened was only too real.  

The Dancing on Air Mystery: Who was Portia?



On Monday, February 7, 1949, two days after Judge Emerson handed down the death penalty in the murder trial of Alfred Beaton, a mysterious letter appeared in the St. John's Evening Telegram. It contained an emotional plea for mercy and a call to action against capital punishment in Newfoundland. 

The eloquent letter writer persuaded thousands of citizens in the city and across Newfoundland and Labrador to demand an end to a barbaric practice. The final outcome was a surprise. Who was the mystery lady, Portia? For the first time in over 60 years, it is now possible to identify her--but the reader has to pick up the clues in the text.







Eric Colbourne grew up in the small community of Lush's Bight-Beaumont on the northeast coast of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. His earliest memories are of the tales spun by village elders under the flickering light of oil lamps in the kitchen of the family home on the isolated island. This tradition of story-telling is captured in his first book Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland which has enjoyed international success.


His latest work, Dancing on AIR: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland, published in October 2016 by Boulder Publications, represents an enduring fascination with the issue of capital punishment which he has researched extensively over many years in this country and around the world.


Colbourne was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland, The University of Reading in the UK, and at McGill University in Montreal. He has enjoyed a varied career in education, community development, tourism and senior management in the public service of Nunavut and the NWT. He currently devotes his time to writing and historical research.

Back Cover:Dancing on Air

Public Executions: Dancing on Air

At 5.32 a.m. on August 14, 1937 a young black man, Rainey Bethea was executed at Owensboro, Kentucky after his conviction for the rape of a white woman. A crowd, estimated at 20,000, gathered in Owensboro the day before and held 'hanging' parties throughout the night. One reporter likened the scene at the scaffold next morning to a sporting event. The hangman was intoxicated and barely managed to trip the lever. It was the last public hanging in the US.

The practice of public executions was abandoned in Canada in 1869 and in the UK in 1870. Many countries, notably Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran continue the practice to this day for crimes such as drug trafficking, witchcraft, disloyalty to the government. and homosexuality.


If you have comments on this site or reviews of Dancing on Air, please e-mail me at

Advice for Writers

Elmore Leonard, a well known mystery writer who died last year offered a number of rules for good writing. A few of them:

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Keep your exclamations points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

3.Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

4.Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

From the Ballad of Reading Gaol

 It is sweet to dance to violins

  When love and life are fair:

To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes

  is delicate and rare:

But it is not sweet with nimble feet

  To dance upon the air!


                       ...Oscar Wilde

Historic Vote

In 1948, residents of Newfoundland and Labrador decided their future in two referenda. In the first vote, held on June 3, Commission of Government was eliminated but neither Confederation with Canada nor Responsible Government received a majority, making a second referendum necessary. Voting was heavy, nearly 89% on June 3rd and 85% on July 22nd. 52.34% of voters chose Confederation on the second ballot.

Where to Buy Disappeared

     Disappeared:Stories From the Coast of Newfoundland is available in print and e-book from and in e-book format from Kobo, Chapters etc. To locate it on Amazon, type 'Disappeared Colbourne' into their 'find' bar. Delivery is about one week.

     Author copies are also available directly from Click on the facebook link and send the author a message. Price is $15 plus postage.

     Due to the short print run the book will not be available in most bookstores.

New Edition: Dancing on Air

More Questions About an Execution

The case of Wilbert Coffin who was convicted of murder and hanged in Quebec more than 60 years ago raises many new questions. For the full story see:

Excerpt from Dancing on Air

(A Hanging in Quebec, 1902)



...Until the mid-1800s some 200 offences were regarded as capital crimes that carried the death penalty. In a modern age most of those offences now seem absurd.


John Dean, variously described in the records as a child of eight or nine, may have been the youngest to suffer death by hanging. On February 23, 1629 he was convicted of arson at Abington, England for setting fire to two barns in the town of Winsor. The judge saw evidence of wickedness in the boy's actions, an attitude which led directly to his death sentence.


In early August, 1814, an unfortunate William Potter received the death penalty at the high court in Chelmsford, England, for damaging an orchard. He had chopped down an old apple tree for firewood. To no avail at his trial, William pleaded ignorance of the law. The judge had second thoughts several days after sentencing, but with the wheels of justice already in motion, William was hanged about a week later on August 12.

From our Readers: Dancing on Air

I finished the book this morning and my only regret is that I couldn't read more....The exacting research gives real context in shaping the period, but it's Colbourne's ability as a writer that allows the reader to feel the crisp bite of the wind, smell the damp night air, and experience the pain and anguish of the characters. Colbourne's deft footwork in handling the historical record while giving life to the characters is to be applauded, and it separates this work from the pack.  (Glen Tilley)


An absolutely lovely read...The book reads like a richly textured novel but the story is flawlessly woven into the historical account (or borne out of it). It is clear that the book is meticulously researched...An excellent read on all fronts. Difficult to put down! (Monty Henstridge)


Excerpt from the story 'The Black Arts Book' in Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland.


...Old Meriam was indeed dead but no one seemed to know how she had died or where she was buried, all of which added to the mystery of her life  and the power of her witchcraft.


After her death, the old house seemed lonely more than anything else, sitting way out on the point by the landwash, facing the September storms and enduring the sad soundings of the ocean swells.


With each passing season it added a deeper tone of grey as the harsh weather of late fall and winter took its toll. Nobody in the village could understand how the old house could withstand so much punishment.


Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland  has been named a top seller on KOBO, one of the largest e-book distributors in the world. It continues to receive positive reviews in Canada and fifteen other countries. Disappeared is also available from and in kindle and print format.