Edited by Denise Barker
remeon’s destiny Copyright © 2018 J.W. Garrett
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by H2O an imprint of BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2018930085 ISBN-13: 978-1-947727-30-4 Visit the publisher at: www.bhcpress.com Also available in ebook
chapter 1 DAMN STUPID OLD-FASHIONED rules were meant to be broken. It’s 1947, for God’s sake, Thomas Stewart thought, as he slid open the barn door with a grating squeak. Momentarily blinded by the darkness, he gave his eyes a few minutes to adjust. Bessie let out a somber moo, objecting to the intrusion. He moved quickly to her side to quiet and comfort her, whispering, “It’s okay, girl. I’m not here to bother you just yet.” Shep rose from his blanket nestled in the straw and bounded toward Thomas, barking a hello. “No, no, no. It’s not time to play,” Thomas said, reaching down to pet his dog, his eyes now accustomed to the low light. He heard the rhythmic back and forth thud of Shep’s tail wagging against the barn floor, and squatted to give him more attention, scratching behind each ear. “Listen up. Stay… I can’t have you barking and carrying on. Pa will know something is up for sure.” Thomas made his way to the back of the barn, focusing on his target just ahead. He and Pa had finished tweaking the transmission a few days ago. The used 1942 Harley had been calling to Thomas ever since. He smiled as he thought of the freedom he would feel when he hit the road, just a few minutes away. Thomas moved in closer, grasping the handlebars and releasing the kickstand as he made his way to the door, Shep following closely. “Stay, boy, stay.”
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Thomas led the motorbike down the long hill to the road. A short walk later, the family farm no longer in his sight, he prepared to kick-start the bike. He bent down, opened the choke and turned the key. He mounted then, kicked down hard on the starter, pressed in the clutch, and popped the gear into second. As he gave it some throttle, the engine sputtered, then came to life, announcing itself with a low rumble. The Harley felt powerful underneath him, and he smiled with satisfaction. This was heaven. Under the light of the half moon, in the rural Virginia town, he rode through the cool early morning air—very early in the morning—as it slapped his face and blew his hair, invigorating him. He breathed evenly now, releasing his pent-up tension as he escaped the farm, leaving behind his strict parents and his landlocked life, and followed along the dirt-filled path to the meeting place. As he neared his destination, he slowed, pressed in the clutch, and downshifted, gliding to a stop. “Joe, where are you?” “I’m here. Stop your bellowing,” Joe said, emerging from the trees. He took a long drag from the cigarette hanging from his lips, then continued. “You trying to wake the dead or just your ma and pa? They can probably hear you, ya know?” he said, laughing, as he threw Thomas the box of Camels. “Aw, shut up,” Thomas said, giving his friend a shove. “Now, now, you asked, and I delivered. Watch out. Be careful of the merchandise,” Joe said, revealing a brown paper sack, offering it to Thomas. “That’s what I’m talking about.” Thomas reached in, pulling out a Budweiser. He grabbed his pocketknife from his pants and popped off the bottle top, then slid in beside his friend. “You got a light?” “Sure.” “Looks like I’ve got some catching up to do,” Thomas said, as he noticed the empty slots of the six-pack. He cupped his hands and lit his cigarette, drew deeply, then exhaled slowly.
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“We’ve got backup supplies, waiting in the wings,” Joe said, patting another bag. “Plenty left to get you toasted.” Thomas gulped down several large swallows, then burped loudly. “Hey, how’s your money supply? You still saving for our adventure?” “Some,” Joe said, taking another long swig. “Things are tight.” “I know they are. My parents are always pinching pennies. Damn Depression. It really messed them up. But why do we need to keep hearing about it? It’s 1947. It’s over. It’s been over for like eight years now. But I’m still hearing, Things were different when we were young. Blah, blah.” “Same here, except I have even less saved than you. How much do you have? C’mon, tell me. I know it’s more than me.” “Um, close to thirty-five dollars. Not really enough to last us for long without jobs, which we don’t even have yet,” he said, polishing off his first beer. Thomas stood up and pointed at a tree. “Look there, Joe. That one up ahead about forty yards. You think I can hit it?” “Well, I know I can’t,” he said, slurring his words. Thomas did a mock windup and pitched the bottle hard, smashing it to bits. “And the crowd goes wild,” he said, prancing in circle. “Ooh, aah,” Joe said in mock amazement. “Sit down, stupid, and have another beer. You’ll miss the next shot.” As Thomas opened his second beer, he paused. “Are you still with me? We’re leaving town together, remember?” “Sure, ugly. Always, together forever,” Joe said, laughing. “Hey, serious up. I mean it. I’m leaving soon, even if I have to walk outta this boring lifeless town.” Thomas downed several long gulps of his beer, as silence fell over the pair. He took a final drag of his cigarette and stomped it out with his foot. “Thomas, man, you know my parents lost everything during the Depression. They’re scared, and they’ll be scared ’til the day they die. Hell, they’re practically dead already. And I’m scared shitless that I’m gonna follow in their footsteps. Oh, and I’ve got about five bucks to my name and beer for brains.”
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“Next thing you know, you’re gonna get all weepy on me. For real, I’ve got your back. Now, after I take a piss, I’m gonna need another. Can you handle that?” “I’ll see what I can do to accom, accom, accom…mo…date.” “But first another shot.” Thomas stood and grabbed his empty bottle, paused and took aim, and let the bottle fly. “The second in a row, yes! This boy is hot tonight,” he said, moving to the perimeter and unzipping his fly. “Aah.” “Not so fast, Thomas. Look. We got company. Now, shhh.” Thomas turned, then fell to the ground as he saw flashing red lights. “Where did he come from? Shit.” “What? Now I’m the calm one?” Joe asked. “I can barely stand, much less take a piss—well, maybe piss on myself.” “Shut up! If they find us, I’m dead meat. Why is he driving so slow?” “He heard you, Jackie Robinson, hitting those trees. Now can you run as fast as Robinson too?” “Run? I can’t run home and leave the bike. You are wasted.” “Shhh, here he comes again. He’s making another pass,” Joe said, whispering. “That’s it. I won’t be cornered like an animal. I can outrun him. I can.” “Don’t be dumb. Just hush up and hide in the woods, wait him out, like I’m gonna do.” “No way! Look. He’s parking. It’s gonna be light in a couple hours, and I need to be home well before that. My parents care if I come home at night.” “Eat shit and die, man.” “I’m getting my bike. I’ll walk it out, hugging close to the brush. Then, down the road a bit, I’ll start her up.” “Don’t say I didn’t warn ya. I’m heading for cover and taking a nap.” Joe moved toward the woods as Thomas reached his bike. “See ya tomorrow.”
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“Yeah, assuming my pa doesn’t skin me,” Thomas replied. He walked the bike as slowly as his nerves let him, peering back at every shuffle of rock, just to be sure the police car was still stationary. “That’s gotta be about half a mile,” he said out loud softly, turning this time to gauge the distance. “It’s about an hour ’til sunup. I can’t waste any more time walking.” Thomas mounted the bike and pushed down hard on the starter. From behind he heard the shrill sound of sirens, and his stomach fell. “I can’t let them catch me,” he said, engaging the clutch. He pushed into second gear and let out the throttle, careening through the rock and dirt as his tires found the road. He knew the police car was following him. He still heard the sirens, but he didn’t dare look back. “It’s gonna be the long way home,” he said, as he veered off road, putting his foot down to keep his balance as he skidded toward the forest dirt path he knew so well. The trees and underbrush made the bike trek difficult, but soon Thomas couldn’t hear the sirens any longer. Just short of the estimated hour travel time, he saw his family’s barn in the distance. He exhaled a deep sigh of relief, cut the engine, and dismounted the bike, while he looked at the sky, then back to the house. Pa will be up soon and wondering where I am, he thought. And I better be busy milking Bessie.
THOMAS STOWED THE bike, careful to park it in the back of the barn at the exact same angle as before. He ran his hand along the smooth olive-colored body of the Harley, pulling trapped twigs and leaves from his ride. Outside, he heard the familiar sound of the back door opening and slamming shut. “Son?” Thomas felt his heart beat in his throat as he moved into high gear. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead, even though he had
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already cooled down from his recent escapades. He grabbed the milking stool and pail, and parked them next to Bessie, realizing he only had seconds to come up with a reasonable explanation for being here with an empty pail. Grateful that he had thought to change his clothes before going out, he noticed a large tear in his pants leg as he pulled the stool over, swung his legs around, and sat down. Barking and a muted conversation, coupled with the heavy thud of Pa’s boots crunching as they hit the ground, meant he was approaching the door. Shep must have gotten out, Thomas thought. A few seconds later, he was face-to-face with his pa. “Thomas? Why didn’t you answer me?” “Hi, Pa. I didn’t hear you, sorry. I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d come on out and get started.” “Couldn’t sleep? You’re never early for chores.” He looked down at the empty bucket. “Doesn’t look like you’ve got much done. How long have you been out here? I’ve been awake in the house for a while, and I didn’t hear you come out.” Thomas met his father’s eyes and realized his pa didn’t know, not yet anyway. At this point Pa was just confused. He wanted a reasonable explanation. After all, Thomas wasn’t ever early. Then he felt a bulge in his back pocket and remembered what he had stowed there and suppressed a grin. As he stood, he reached around and pulled out his Buck Rogers comic book he had been reading before his ride and handed it to his father. Kicking intently at the straw around his feet, he continued. “I came out here a few hours ago to read since I couldn’t sleep.” Glancing up, Thomas waited for the moment of truth, gauging his pa’s reaction. “Silly. What a waste of time.” Relieved, Thomas exhaled, not realizing he had been holding his breath. “It relaxes me.” “You could read lots of real books…books that might further your education, books where you might actually learn something,” he said pointedly, returning the comic book with a look of disgust.
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Before Thomas could respond, he watched as his pa wrinkled his nose and turned to the side. “What’s that smell? Is it gas?” Thomas froze, unsure how to deflect his pa’s latest revelation. “I don’t smell anything,” Thomas added, watching as his pa moved to the back of the barn toward the bike. No, no, no. Don’t touch the bike. The engine might still be warm, Thomas thought. No… “Did we somehow spill gas the other day, while we were working on the transmission?” “Yes, that’s it. We did,” he answered a little too energetically, surprising his father, who turned around. Thomas felt his legs go weak and reached out to Bessie to steady himself. “What’s wrong, son?” “Just tired, I guess. I should have been in my bed sleeping last night,” he said, being totally honest for the moment. “That’s true, but you’re not getting out of chores that easy. And what’s that you have on? Torn pants and a T-shirt? No jacket? You came out here like that this morning? It’s cold this morning, son,” he said, shaking his head. Relieved the focus had turned away from the bike, he said sheepishly, “Yes, Pa.” “Go back inside and grab a jacket, and come right back out— and hustle. There’s work to be done, and I’ll not have you getting sick.” “Yes, Pa. I’ll be right back.” I’m only a farmhand to him, Thomas thought, as he walked to the house. The monotony of this place will surely kill me eventually, just the same as if someone pulled a trigger and shot me dead on the spot. This is just another morning, like all the other endless mornings I’ve endured up to this day. I’m free labor—a shit-shoveler, more or less. As he opened the back door, his senses came alive, greeted with the familiar aromas of freshly baked biscuits, frying sausage, and strong coffee. The kitchen stove warmed him as he moved through the room.
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“Thomas, I didn’t hear you go out.” “Hi, Ma. I went out early, just coming back for my jacket. Colder than I thought,” Thomas added, as he tramped up the stairs. In his room, Thomas picked up a thermal shirt and pulled it over his head, then added a jacket. He returned through the kitchen, and his stomach growled. “Smells good, Ma,” he said, pulling his collar in closer around his neck before disappearing back outside. He and his pa typically worked silently most mornings, but, as Thomas opened the barn door again and made his way to Bessie, he thought about possibly talking to his pa, maybe due to the boldness of the morning already. He decided to test the waters. “Pa?” “Yes, son.” “I’ll be sixteen soon, and I’ve been thinking about my future.” “Yes, good to know, and?” “And…and—” “Spit it out.” “Well…I’m not sure I’m cut out for farming, day in and day out.” There—he said it. Unable to look at his father, he studied bits of stray grass, waiting for a response in the awkward silence. “Is that so? What are you cut out for then? You’ve been working on this farm ever since you could walk. It’s what you know.” “It’s what you know, Pa,” Thomas corrected. James turned toward his son, as he leaned on a shovel. “Sit for a minute, son.” Shocked that his pa might actually hear him out, Thomas pulled up the milking stool and took a seat. “Your ma and I have talked and thought you might be ready to handle more responsibility this season—learning the buying and selling piece of what we do. You’ve always been involved in the day-to-day planting, tilling, harvesting. Now it’s time to know more, do more. You can see how we actually make a living at farming. You can see the potential. Now you can understand it.”
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Thomas sat completely still, afraid to speak, not wanting something awful to come out of his mouth, even though the words were on the tip of his tongue, fighting to be set free. “Son, did you hear me? We think you’re ready. We can start soon. There is so much more to learn,” he said, his excitement evident. “One more year of school and then you could spend more of your day here and less time cooped up in the schoolhouse.” “Pa, I…I…don’t know what to say,” Thomas said. He paused, his pa’s eyes boring a hole into him, took a deep breath, and decided to jump in with both feet. “I want to see the world, Pa. I want to learn about the world, not just this one little piece of dirt—maybe join the service.” “Piece of dirt?” Pa said, spitting out the last word. “This piece of dirt is keeping our family afloat, with food on the table and clothes on your back,” he said, as his eyes grew bigger and bigger with each word. Here it comes, Thomas thought. “The service? Are you ready to fight for our country, give your life for our country? Explain to me how you’re ready for that when you spend your days reading comic strips?” Thomas listened as his pa’s voice broke, and his eyes got misty. “Pa?” James picked up the shovel he’d been leaning on, turned, and threw it against the side of the barn, sending an echo throughout the shed. Shep darted out the door, and Bessie mooed, nervously shifting her hind legs. “Go, son. Go take care of the chickens. I’ll finish up in here.” “But, Pa, I didn’t…” “Go. Now.” Thomas left the barn and quietly shut the door, petting Shep, who sat waiting for him outside the barn. “Come on, boy. Come with me. It’s okay.” If the only way out is to enlist, I’ll up and leave one night,
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and make it happen, he thought. Even with the war over, they still needed men. He heard the spiel in his head repeating over and over. Defend your country. Your friends are fighting. Why aren’t you? Thomas walked into the chicken coop, ducking his head, and the hens flew excitedly from their nests. One by one he picked up the warm eggs and placed them in the wire basket. His empty stomach growled loudly. It had already been a long morning. His thoughts turned once again to food, and he picked up the pace. As he left the henhouse, he saw his pa out in the field, tending to the cattle and sheep. I wonder if he actually enjoys this life? Back in the kitchen he handed off the eggs to his ma. “Perfect. I’ll fry these up in a jiffy,” she said, smiling at him. By this time, he did feel weak from hunger, and the lack of sleep was catching up with him too. It’ll be a long day, he thought, as he moved to the sink to wash up. Mary, his older sister, set the biscuits on the table in front of him. “You were up mighty early this morning,” she said, with a smile settling on her face. Thomas threw a sideways glance her way. Did she know? She’s so bossy. Mary was the eldest and, at seventeen, very mature. Many young men found her attractive with her tall, slender stature and shoulder-length brown hair. She was actually quite stunning, when she wasn’t telling on Thomas. His little sister, Belle, scooted into the chair next to him and attempted to push herself in. Thomas laughed, happier to focus on her. She had shorter blond hair, with curls that bobbled as she ran. And, at age eight, she idolized both her older siblings, but especially Thomas, since they were closer in age. “Here, let me help you with that,” he said, as he moved her chair closer to the table. All present and accounted for, almost. Breakfast would not begin without his pa seated at the head of the table. Thomas’s mouth watered as he squirmed in his seat, his eyes locked on the warm food in front of him. He willed his pa to
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walk through the back door. He was tempted to sneak a bite when the door swung open, and his pa walked through the door. Pa washed his hands and took his seat, while Ma finished frying the freshly gathered eggs. Once she brought the rest of the eggs to the table and seated herself, he closed his eyes and said grace, which meant the eating could begin. Someday I will miss this but not today…not today, he murmured again, as he dug into his first helping of biscuits and hot gravy.
AS THOMAS FINISHED his breakfast, he thought about the day ahead. School is really for those who have nothing better to do with their day, and there is always something better to do. Figurin’, readin’, and writin’ are important to get along in this world—he knew that, especially since he had big plans to see the world, and escape the farm. He knew all that school stuff now, so what was the point of continuing? It had served its purpose. Belle, his baby sister, interrupted his thoughts as she prodded, “Whatcha thinking?” Thomas paused. “I’m thinking you better finish breakfast now. It’s your turn to help with the dishes, and you’ll get left behind if you don’t hurry.” Thomas loved Belle dearly and would do anything for her, even though she could be a pest a lot of the time. “You better not,” she said, jumping from her seat to start her chores. “Oh, just hurry up,” Thomas spat out. “You are slow as molasses.” With that comment, Ma looked at Belle. “Belle, dear, Thomas isn’t ready to go yet either,” she said, giving him a stern look. “Move it along, Belle. You will be finished in no time. And, Thomas, you have one extra chore this morning. Take
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these scraps and coffee grounds to the compost heap, and make sure you turn the pile as well.” “Yes, ma’am,” Thomas replied, glaring at Belle from the corner of his eye. From her contented smile, he knew she thought she had bested him. Dishes and composting now done, Thomas and Belle stood by the door. Where was Mary? Thomas hadn’t seen her since breakfast, come to think of it. Belle was special, despite getting on his nerves occasionally. Unlike the majority of younger children, she was comfortable just to be. She could say more with a glance or a touch than most people could with a mouthful of words. Even at age eight she was good at making people feel comfortable. Mary, on the other hand, was tightly wound, especially this morning as she rounded the corner of the hallway. Her eyes darted to the door, where Thomas and Belle stood ready to go, then she quickly whispered to Ma. Hushed tones ensued. Something’s up. “Go on to school, Thomas and Belle. Mary has some special errands to complete today and will not be going with you.” “Is she sick?” Belle chimed in. “No, dear, not at all. Now run along, or you both will be late to school, and you know how Mrs. Martin loathes tardiness.” Thomas took another cursory glance at his older sister, as the whispered tones between her and Ma continued. If she is telling on me, I’ll never forgive her. He kept watching. Something was definitely not right. He noticed her shoulders sagged, like she had the weight of the world resting on her. What could it be? Thomas thought as he opened the door. With one foot out the door, he turned back once more. “Bye, Ma.” “Bye, dear. You both have a good day.” Thomas set a rapid pace, ready to put some distance between himself and Mary.
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“Hurry along now, Belle. You will be warmer if you walk quickly.” “Yes, Thomas,” she replied dutifully. With the sun peeking through the clouds, Thomas saw the sky come alive with bursts of orange and yellow and muted blue tones, and he slowed. The hills ahead seemed isolated from the rest of the horizon, framed by the colors of the sun. The countryside was coming alive. Spring was just around the corner. But, after the argument with Pa this morning, all Thomas could think about was how the sky reminded him of a scene he was reading in his Dr. Modar of Saturn comic book, hidden away in his back pocket. It was only the last week of March, but with the arrival of spring would come much hard work on the farm: plowing, preparing the field, planting, and tending to crops. Thomas grinned, thinking of one bright spot—school would be over for him shortly. Pa would need him in the field, and, as with all young men his age, he would leave school early for the summer break to assist with chores on the farm. He wasn’t quite sure how many more seasons he would be around. Maybe only one. He had to get his plans together. And he needed a job. Those were difficult to come by; times were tough. Thomas had seen signs of stress between Ma and Pa, and Thomas guessed the source had to be lack of money. Lost in his thoughts, he looked up to find they had reached the school. “Go on in, Belle. I’ll see you here after school.” Belle cocked her head and looked at Thomas. “You’re not coming? Why not?” “I’ve got some things to do. No more questions.” “Okay, Thomas. See you later.” She skipped inside, her tight blond curls floating in the air as she moved. He heard the familiar sounds of school: kids playing and children laughing. Thomas took one step forward, then a tentative step back. His mind reeled with thoughts and concerns of the future, his
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future. He walked in the opposite direction from the way he had come, then walked faster, until he jogged at a steady pace away from the school yard. Thomas ran until his breath came in heaving bursts. It was good to be out, away. He felt the weight lift slightly from his shoulders, and, if only for a few hours, he could just be. Confusion clouded his mind, as all his looming decisions vied for space in his head. He reached down and grabbed a stick from the ground, then thrust his other hand in his pocket, feeling his way to his pocketknife. While he whittled, thoughts continued to flow as a jumbled mess while he attempted to organize them into two sides, pros and cons. Pros to staying just where I am? Well, there’s family. And it would make them all happy. Then there’s Pa. It is what he expects and has already planned for my future. I guess I’d learn something in the process, if I ever had to actually farm for a living. But really I think I could get by with the knowledge I have today on the subject actually. That’s about it for the pros. Cons? I am miserable with farm life, and I only see that getting worse. Also how can I travel the world when I’m tied to a farm, with my schedule set and dependent on the sun, wind, and rain? No, I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. Ma and Pa would say that sounds kinda selfish and immature. I know they would. But I want my life to be my own and not determined by someone else. And another big con: I don’t have the money to follow my dreams yet, and that is something I definitely need. It always comes back to money. What would Buck Rogers do? He would never be in this situation; he is only the best action hero ever. Against all odds he always wins. Will I ever see any action? He considered his threat to join the service. It just might be the only option. He could prove his pa wrong. He was ready. He dug into his pocket again and pulled out several Buck Rogers comic books. Thomas turned the pages, rereading each word that he had already devoured. He poured over the worn pages and
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imagined his life once again as the Buck Rogers. Wouldn’t life be grand to always win and never to have decisions made for you and to always get the glory? Someday my life will be grand, and someday I will have the glory, if only I could figure out the first step. Thomas absentmindedly groped for his slingshot as he watched a squirrel climb a distant tree. A smooth rock nearby caught his eye. He aimed and fired off a quick shot. It zoomed past the animal to the far right, and it scurried away. He collected a few more perfectly sized rocks close to the stream and shoved them in his pocket, then knelt to take a drink. Thomas paused and turned toward the sound of the disturbance around him, diving behind the nearest tree. “Thomas? Are you out here?” Thomas poked his head out to see his friend Joe with his hands on his knees, panting, catching his breath. Thomas stepped from his hiding place. “Yeah, I’m here. Why are you here?” “Just…one…second…and…I’ll tell you,” he said, struggling to speak. “Not sure what you…see…in this place.” Thomas laughed as he watched his friend’s heaving breaths slow and normalize once again. “Sure you do. It’s my place, and no one knows about it.” Joe met Thomas’s eyes, and his face transformed into a broad ear-to-ear grin. “No one but me.” “Yeah. You can’t get enough of me, I know. I barely escaped a shitload of trouble this morning, being out with you. My pa hates me, and I’m skipping school. My day isn’t getting any better.” “Hey, you gotta admit it was fun, just chilling, until we had company. Then watching you hightail it outta there was priceless,” he said, laughing uncontrollably. “Always glad to be of service. And you are here, why? You need to be at school learning stuff, idiot.”
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“Hey, I take offense to that. I’m a smart idiot.” Joe pulled out his lunch pail and set it between them. “Okay, and? Is it lunchtime? You came all the way out here to eat?” Joe threw up his hands in an exaggerated motion and rolled his eyes. “And you call me dumb… Open it.” Thomas grabbed the pail and flipped open the lid. Immediately his eyes got big as his jaw dropped, and the pail slipped from his fingers. “What have you done?” Joe looked back at Thomas, the spark of laughter gone from his eyes. “After our meeting last night I made some decisions. You forced me to take a hard look at myself. All we’ve been talking about for so long is about to come true. I’m not going back home. I’ve got a small bag behind the schoolhouse. We can leave tomorrow. I was going to tell you today at school, but, when you didn’t show up—” “Wait now,” Thomas interrupted. “Slow down. Where exactly did you get this?” Joe leaned down and picked up the pail and retrieved its contents. “I stole it. It’s my parents’ savings,” he said, as he arranged the bills in his hand for Thomas to get a closer look. “There must be hundreds of dollars there,” Thomas said. “Three hundred and seventy-eight to be exact,” Joe replied. Thomas stepped back and ran his fingers through his hair and paced. “I can’t use your parents’ money,” he said. “It’s just not right.” Joe threw the money in the pail and closed the distance between them. “Hey, this was your idea, remember? I’m just finally giving it wings so we can fly. You say you’re ready every day. You complain about your pa every day. Let’s just do it.” Thomas looked into the eyes of his friend who he had known as long as he could remember, as Joe silently pleaded with him. Thomas heard the desperation in Joe’s voice. Thomas broke away and continued to pace, then abruptly stopped and sat down on a large rock, staring into the distance, his knees bouncing nervously.
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Joe shook his head and went back to the forgotten pail. “You’re not coming are you? After all this, you’re gonna back out and leave me holding the bag.” Thomas raised his eyes and smiled at his lame joke. “You stupid dumb-shit,” he said, laughing. “Yes, I’m coming with you, on one condition.” Joe glanced up, a look of shock on his face. “No way. What is it?” “I’m not touching any of that money. I’ve got enough for a bus ticket at home. We can get outta town and decide where to from there. Agreed?” “We’ll play this any way you want,” Joe said, as he grasped Thomas in a bear hug. “I didn’t think you were gonna come,” he whispered, his voice cracking. Thomas pulled away and studied his friend’s face. “Hey, together forever, remember?” “That was a long time ago,” Joe replied. “Besides, you need me, or you’d get hopelessly lost.” Joe nodded his head in agreement. “Sadly that’s a true statement.” “Let’s decide on a time to meet. I’ve suddenly got lots to do tonight,” Thomas said, energy bubbling just below the surface. “At 1:00 a.m. at the schoolhouse. Ma and Pa are away for the night, visiting my cousin, but, as I said, I’m not going home.” “We’re doing it!” Thomas said, as they clasped arms. “See you at one.” Joe picked up the pail and flashed him a smile. “I just knew you wouldn’t let me down.” “Never. Now you focus on you. I’ve got to…” Thomas looked at the sun as it hung low in the sky. “Oh, no, Belle.” The excitement of his recent decisions left him. He wouldn’t be at school in time to meet his sister. Thomas set off in the direction he had come, hours ago now, at a fast run. Even with this new complication, he felt better about things.
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He would be free in a matter of hours. His mind raced in a hundred different directions as the adrenaline coursed through him. When he neared the school yard, he listened for familiar sounds of shouting and children playing. But he heard none of that, just silence. The school yard was empty, and Belle was not waiting for him. His mood shifted as he quickly went from excitement to worry, then dread. Thomas realized what would be waiting for him when he got home. His pace slowed to a walk. No way around this. He was in big trouble. Belle obviously started home without him. She was probably home now, recounting the story of him sending her into school without him. Thomas racked his brain to come up with an excuse. In spite of what was waiting for him at home, he actually felt better than he did this morning. Pa had basically ignored him, and now this would be their last confrontation. His hand found his comic books, and his fingers fanned the pages back and forth in his pocket. Someday Iâ€™ll have something to show for my hard work, something other than eggs, corn, or beans. My story may not be in a comic book, but I will find my own way, and, in my story, Iâ€™ll be the star.
JAMES STEWART LOOKED outside from his spot in the barn. By the position of the sun in the sky he judged it to be about 1:00 to 1:30 p.m., suppertime for sure. His day, thus far, had consisted of inventorying the equipment and supplies on hand for spring planting. All appeared to be in good working order, just a few maintenance chores here and there, easily taken care of. He mentally processed the annual planting cycle, as he did every year. He had been thinking for weeks that the time was close. A couple more weeks and we must be ready to plant our barley, beans, corns, oats, and hay, but the ground has to be prepared before that, and the time for that was now. James finished a few more items, checked them off his list, then
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went to the clipboard he kept on the wall to visualize his progress. All was in perfect order and on schedule. He was dependent on his son for help, and in a few weeks Thomas would be his for the spring and summer. James’s dependence on his son and his labor grew by the day. As Thomas grew older and stronger, he became a more valuable resource; James knew this to be true. He thought back on the recent conversation he had had with his son. It had been unsettling for them both. Thomas doesn’t know what he really wants, James thought. Young men needed strong guidance and lots of physical labor to keep their hands and minds busy. Thomas performed well enough in school, and James’s dear Elizabeth saw to it that the boy attended church—well, all of them. God, church, and family—these edicts helped a family function and ultimately made a country strong. These will see my son through as well. James closed the door to the barn and walked to the house. His thoughts turned to his wife, Elizabeth. Even now in 1947, times were still hard. But with the lean days of the Great Depression behind them, he felt confident about the days ahead. She deserved the best. She was an amazing woman and ran the house well, plus was a wonderful wife and mother. Hopefully this year’s crops would yield well, and they could buy some of the things they had put off for so long, with all the scrimping and saving just to make ends meet. He couldn’t help but smile as he opened the door and witnessed his wife busy with her day, gliding from one thing to the next, the kitchen humming with activity. “I hope something in this kitchen is ready for me. It all smells wonderful. I’m famished.” When Elizabeth heard him speak, she turned down the radio and showed him the pot of stew on the stove, ready and waiting for him. He kissed her on the cheek and walked to the sink to wash up, while Elizabeth pulled the cornbread from the oven. Daffodils brightened the room, complementing the table already set for two,
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complete with cheery checkered napkins. She served two plates, as her husband sat down. After grace and a few hungry mouthfuls, James paused and looked up at Elizabeth. “We need to talk about Thomas,” James said, resolutely putting down his fork and clearing his throat. “Did you know—at fifteen years old—he’s been thinking of joining the army? With the preparing of the fields beginning any day now, I’ll expect a lot of him, and I need to know his head is in the right place.” “I feel him struggling,” Elizabeth said. “He’s not a man yet and still has many childish ways. I believe he is trying to make decisions about his future. He’s a little restless and distracted, but isn’t that normal for a boy of almost sixteen?” “I feel him struggling too. It’s called laziness and indecisiveness,” James said with a sarcastic tone. “This is where we need to take an even harder line.” He continued. “Damn it, Elizabeth, we need him here to make ends meet. He owes it to us. Without him we’ll be hiring some day-workers to help with the farm. It’s time for him to make a real contribution and have a stake in the process, carry some risk. He doesn’t even see the opportunity. That’s how closed-minded he is. We should bring him into the planning and all the processes necessary to bring crops to harvest. If he could just see it and grab it, it’s all within his reach. He has done most of the tasks, but, if he is to be a farmer, he needs to be exposed to all facets of crop growing— planning, planting, growth, harvest, and bringing the crops to market to sell. Don’t you feel he’s ready to take on more?”
ELIZABETH THOUGHT ABOUT Thomas. Her son at times seemed like a stranger. She realized this journey into manhood was not one she could participate in. James assured her that this was necessary for Thomas to realize his lot in life, and, through this
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process, he would emerge a confident, productive young man. She had acquiesced up to this point, deferring to the man she loved. Elizabeth shuddered at the thought of Thomas enlisting. She recalled the stories from friends whose sons didn’t return from the war. It had been a dark time. Even though her family hadn’t had much, they got by; they were all alive still. Elizabeth had listened intently to James, then reached out and took her husband’s hand in hers. “I do feel he’s capable and strong, but, James, he doesn’t want to farm. He could change his mind, yes, but you can see it in his eyes some days. He looks like a caged animal. After another year, what do we do? Keep him here against his will?” James picked up his dishes, took them to the counter, and threw them in the sink with a loud clatter. Elizabeth thought, What if their fears were confirmed, and Thomas, when cornered, actually runs away and enlists? What would happen next? Hopefully her instincts this time were wrong. The rift this would cause between father and son would be devastating to their relationship. James had never questioned that Thomas would follow in his father’s footsteps, and this year it seemed James wanted Thomas to invest more of himself, with James teaching his son more of what he knows about farming. She stood up and walked over to her husband, placing her hands on his back. She could feel the tightness of his muscles straining against his shirt, and, when he turned around, she saw that same tension in the deep lines cut into his face. “Maybe it’s a phase. He’s young and impulsive. Let’s give him a few days, and we’ll both talk to him again.” As she finished speaking, a wave of uneasiness flowed through her, and she felt a deepening sense of foreboding. Elizabeth turned her attention to the table, clearing the rest of the dishes. She tried to brush away the feeling, but, in her heart, she knew she didn’t
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believe it herself. “It will be all right.” She continued, assuring James. “Give it time.” James shook his head in obvious exasperation, continuing on without missing a beat. “Why should we entertain his childish notions? What could he have to say of importance really, Elizabeth? He is almost sixteen and knows little of worldly things but what we have taught him. And he knows nothing of the horrors of war, yet he’s ready to jump into that blindly?” Elizabeth felt a chill rush over her, and she shivered again. This event would shape these two and their relationship far into the future, and her optimism for a positive outcome was dwindling. The men in this family seemed like two ships on very different voyages, and they were destined for a collision. A knock on the door interrupted them. Mrs. Martin?
THOMAS NEARED THE house and saw Pa on the porch, standing there, waiting. When he got closer, it became clear Pa was even madder than Thomas had anticipated. His high from before was gone, replaced with a growing fear. He felt like his boots were anchored to the ground as he covered the last few yards to the porch steps with difficulty. Slowly making his way up, he avoided his pa’s glare. He had no doubt of Pa’s intentions. His face was red, the muscles there taut, and they spasmed as he spoke. “Son, I’m disappointed with you. Take a walk to the barn.” Thomas knew what was in store for him there. It wasn’t a place his pa took him when he was interested in his side of the story. Thomas sighed heavily and braced for the worst.
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JAMES PUSHED THE barn door closed with a thud, then looked at his son as he walked to the opposite side of the barn with his head low. He petted Bessie, then lifted his eyes to meet his pa’s unwavering gaze. “Thomas, I don’t understand you. Your little sister, she is your responsibility. How could you leave her? What were you thinking? Are you thinking at all?” James said, his voice growing louder with each syllable. “Mrs. Martin brought Belle home and told us how you weren’t at school today. Where were you? And what was so important to leave your sister behind? Discipline is a trait valued by the world, son. And we instill this in you every day. Where was it today? Son? I’m waiting!” I know you don’t understand me, Thomas thought. No one does. “Pa, I just needed time. I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn’t stand to be behind those walls today.” Thomas glanced up to read his pa’s face. A quiet, seething anger registered there, unlike anything he had seen before. “Pa, I know I messed up,” he said. “I meant to be back to the school in time to walk Belle home. Time just…got away from me. You see I had important…” “Enough!” Pa said, waving his arms, silencing him. “Nothing is more important than your family and certainly not an afternoon stroll through the countryside. Remember our conversation this morning? What do you think they do to soldiers who leave their posts? It’s called desertion,” he said, not waiting for a reply but pausing to take a breath before plowing in again. “You would be shot on sight. And to think I was ready to give you more responsibility on the farm. I thought you were ready… You’ve proved me wrong, son. Your actions were irresponsible and childish,” he said, shaking his head. “I expected more from you.” Thomas met the cold stare of his father, who he didn’t feel like he knew anymore. His pa’s nostrils flared, and his breathing was loud and aggravated. It reminded Thomas of an animal about to charge. He
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wished he could disappear into the wood of the barn he was huddled against. “Pa, I…wait.” “There is nothing you can say that will make this right.” Thomas opened his mouth to speak, wanting to scream what was on his mind. But, knowing this wasn’t the time, closed it without saying another word. Would there ever be a time? he thought. “You can expect a bigger share of the chores. If you have time to spend half your day doing absolutely nothing, then you have too much time!” Pa said, his voice forming a streaming hiss. “I’ve been too easy on you. That’s fixin’ to change. You’ll be a man soon, with adult responsibilities, and, like it or not, you need to take your place in this man’s world.” “Pa, will you let me…” “No. The time for talk is done.” Thomas looked up at his pa again and knew he was beyond reason. His gaze was fixed, and his jaws clenched, as he stared unflinchingly at Thomas. Fear and dread paralyzed him as his feet turned to lead. He heard the belt whipped free from his pa’s trousers in one swift motion. Thomas couldn’t bear to see the look of disgust on his pa’s face, but his focus still remained glued there. His shoulders sagging, Thomas finally turned his face toward the wall, his fingers forming a tight fist, as he inhaled deeply, bracing himself for the first blow. One. Thomas yelled as the first one landed on his lower back with a loud quick snap. Two. Shuffling his feet, Thomas adjusted his position as he anticipated the next hit. Three. Then, in quick succession, four. He cringed and gritted his teeth as he struggled to catch his breath. He fought back tears as his fists pounded the wall, then slowly slid down as number five found its mark, and then, he quit counting. The stinging and burning consumed his entire backside. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks. His father stopped after what seemed like an eternity, even he was out of breath from the exertion. Thomas panted as he gasped for air, leaning into the wall, grateful for its support, not wanting to turn and face his pa again.
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“Now go inside and up to your room,” Pa ordered, still breathing heavily. “Your mother will bring you leftovers later tonight. You’ll not eat with the family this evening.” Pa left without another word, closing the barn door. In the silence of the barn, Thomas screamed as he smashed his fist through the wall and crashed in a crumpled heap to the ground. The tears began again, and he impatiently wiped them away, his breath still coming in short bursts, his chest heaving. I can’t stay in this house any longer. I won’t. He began the slow, painful walk across the barn, then to the house. Every inch of his body hurt, and he knew tomorrow’s pain would be worse. His father would never understand. This is the last whipping I’ll ever receive without fighting back, he vowed. And tomorrow I’ll be gone. Thomas caught his sisters’ glances as he entered the house. Mary averted her gaze, and Belle sat curled in the corner, whimpering. His eyes brimming, another wave of unshed tears fell, and his vision clouded again. Belle was upset, but this wasn’t her fault. The issues were much bigger than today. Thomas made his way up the steps. Slowly he closed the door on this day that had quickly gone so wrong. In the closet Thomas found his small travel bag. From his drawers he pulled out three shirts, a pair of pants, and underwear, and set to work packing. A few minutes later, he had finished with the small items he wanted to take with him, then surveyed his room for anything he may have forgotten. So much time spent here and this is how it ends. He gathered his comic books from the shelf above his bed and, from his nightstand, pulled out all the cash he had in the world and placed it in the bag, then zipped it shut. He set his alarm clock for twelve midnight. The pain of cuts large and small stung him when he pulled away his torn shirt. Pieces of cloth clung to his skin from the blood gathering there. Muscles he didn’t even know he had screamed at him in agony as he undressed and slipped into his bedclothes. He pulled
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back the sheets and crawled into bed, lying on his stomach. Not even the least bit hungry, he shut his eyes and tried to push from his mind the recurring scene in the barn. Despite the effort, every time his eyes closed, vivid pictures came alive in his head, taking on a life of their own. Sometime later the door opened, and he heard his ma place food on the bedside table. He felt a light kiss on his forehead and a gentle pat on the shoulder. She then reached around and quickly dressed the wound on his hand. â€œI love you,â€? she whispered, hugging him lightly as she kissed him on the cheek. Thomas felt his face, now wet, not from his own tears this time but his maâ€™s. He buried his head under the covers, relieved to think no more, and gave in to the exhaustion that overtook him.
about the author J.W. Garrett has been writing in one form or another since she was a teenager. She currently lives in Florida with her family, but loves the mountains of Virginia where she was born. Her writings include poetry, short stories, and since putting the final touches on her young adult fantasy novel, she has been hard at work on a sequel. When sheâ€™s not hanging out with her characters, her favorite activities are reading, running and spending time with family. Visit the author at: www.jwgarrett.com and www.bhcpress.com
Imprint: BHC Press/H2O Genre: YA/Teen/Sci-fi Publication Date: 6/19/2018 Description: Thomas longs to escape the drudgery of farm life, drea...
Published on Apr 22, 2018
Imprint: BHC Press/H2O Genre: YA/Teen/Sci-fi Publication Date: 6/19/2018 Description: Thomas longs to escape the drudgery of farm life, drea...