Dividing them into two groups, male and female, Dan addressed the next major issue—living accommodations. For the sake of propriety, he housed the boys on one side of the house and the girls on the opposite corner. “We don’t want you starting on your next generation until after you’re back home under your parent’s watch.”
Wide eyed with embarrassment the boys stepped away from the conversation. Marjorie’s mouth opened to protest. In the absence of a retort, she closed it and via eye contact engaged in a private conversation with her sisters. It was the first of many times Caitlin witnessed the form of communication they shared and wished she had a sister or a brother.
He guided them to the upstairs portion of the house. Caitlin recognized some of the rooms but was unfamiliar with most of the house. She counted eight doorways. When she lived in it with her mother, there were five doorways. One each for Caitlin and her mother’s bedroom, one for the bathroom they shared and two guest rooms. The lower portion of the house had a craft room and a mini library. Using her fingers to keep tally of the rooms, Caitlin said, “We didn’t have as many rooms.”
Dan took her to a room that was half the size of her old bedroom. Two twin beds, covered in hand sewn quilts, parked against the walls where Caitlin’s desk and dresser would have been. Caitlin wrestled with the odd sensation of being comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. Even though she had just walked in the room, it felt like she had always been there.
Taking on the role of tour guide, she went to the hall and pointed to the opposing corner. “Mom’s room is on the other side of the hall.” Her voice weakened with the memory of their last moments together. “One of the last things I told her was I couldn’t wait to leave her.”
Ella placed a comforting arm around her shoulder. “Mothers know daughters don’t mean half the things they say. I believe it’s those mean things that give us patience when we grow to be parents.”
Dan’s eyes darkened into a more serious expression. “On that note, it seems like now is as good a time as any to remind you to resist the temptation of telling us too much about the future. It isn’t that we don’t want to know. I know from those folks from the 3000’s it’ll make things harder on us when you leave because we’ll start second-guessing our decisions. With you being closer to our decisions, I imagine it’d be even worse.”
As quickly as his expression became serious, it returned to the lighter more thoughtful expression he wore in the first moments he met them. “Next on the agenda is getting you girls some clothes.”
Looking above Andrea’s head, Dan said, “I know the wind must have been harsh to leave a child walking around in her underwear.” Caitlin grinned slightly as Dan’s interpretation of Andrea clothing sank in. Back in the day, or in the time they were in, Andrea’s leggings were the equivalent of the wool stockings they read about.
Until he said something, no one considered Andrea’s outfit. Ever since kindergarten, her choice in clothes differed slightly from her friends. Up until second grade she insisted upon wearing tutu skirts-even if it meant wearing them over her jeans in the winter.
Andrea’s face pinked slightly as she took in her outfit. Caitlin held her hand over her mouth to keep in the laugh bubbling in her chest. Selene, who could have used the moment to say something mean, said, “It took going back in time for me to finally understand the dress code. I bet Mrs. Authry is older than even what we thought.
“You never know,” Ella crooked her elbow through Andrea’s, “I’ve heard rumors about teachers using fairy magic to extract energy from their students to keep young.”
A thin line of concern formed in the middle of Andrea’s eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“Nah,” Ella’s face broke into a wide smile and she winked. “But I did manage to change the subject. Now let’s go do what we girls do best. Talk about clothes, food and boys and other girls who aren’t in the room.”
She opened the door to a room in the middle of the corridor and waved her hand like a salesperson showcasing a featured item. One by one the girls crossed the thresh hold into a room that held several trunks. Caitlin overheard Angelica’s soft whisper to Marjorie, “I’m beginning to think I’m going to like it here.”
Walking in scattered clusters, the groups held several mini private conversations while they followed Dan and Mark back to Adam’s house. Dan, who looked to be the older of the two men, seemed at ease with the situation, talking with the kids like they were extended family coming in for a visit. He began with an explanation of how they prepared for the group’s arrival. “My wife Ella knows how to preserve just about anything. When she heard about the food problems the soldiers were having in Europe she figured it’d be a matter of time and we’d be rationing. It hasn’t happened yet, but there’s been speculation. If it does, we’re ready for it. He walked them by a door that seemed to be an entrance to an underground tunnel. Excepting the frame holding the door in place, the structure constructed entirely of dirt and grass blended with the landscape. “We easily have six months worth of vegetables, potatoes and beans. I wondered how we were going to eat it all before it went bad. Now we know.”
Brian’s mind raced as he tried to use the information Dan told them to figure out where they were. Yes, the country was fighting the War on Terror when they left, but nobody he knew of rationed. Most people tried to get as much as they could of everything.
Eli, from the farm down the road, showed Brian a room in his house dedicated to the accumulation of ammunition. The walls of the room, from ceiling to floor, held an assortment of bullets. Some of them he purchased. Most of them he made on his own. Meticulously organized, the bullets were shelved in size order beginning in one corner and moving to the left as they increased in caliber.
In like manner, Eli’s wife Alyssa had a room used specifically for food storage. At the time, Brian joked that he knew where to go in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Their current situation made him realize his neighbors probably knew more about the potential for a crisis than him.
They reached the peak of one of the rolling hills to see an immense housing compound. Caitlin’s indifference caused Brian to wonder if they had been on the property all along and he failed to realize it. As if to answer his question, she said, “It looks different without the trees. I mean, I know we had a lot of buildings. It just doesn’t look like it until you see them together.”
Beaming at her comment, Dan nodded his head and said, “So we finally do get this place to look alive.” He quickly added, “Don’t tell me too much, I don’t want anything you say to influence my decisions.”
The two-story house with a deck wrapped around the front seemed odd in the middle of the prairie. Across from the house, a simpler building that Caitlin used to call the dormitory was half painted. “We were in the middle of a project when the storm blew through,” Dan explained.
Several grain bins and the farm equipment Brian and Caitlin played around for their childhood, lacking the wear from years of exposure to the elements, shined like one of the brand new quarters they used to brag about when they were kids.
Caitlin’s eyes scanned the flat land searching for something familiar. “What happened to the farm?”
“I’m glad you noticed. I think we’ve done quite well for the short amount of time we’ve been out here. Most families don’t have as much after five years.” Dan stood taller and took in the scene in front of them.
Damien pushed to the front of the group. “Five years? What do you mean five years? Caitlin, really how do you know this man?”
Dan held out his hands. The gleam in his eyes darkened and his jaw became more angular. “Take it easy there son. The way you’re talking to my granddaughter, I mean great granddaughter is disrespectful and needs to stop right now. Otherwise there will be consequences neither of us wants to see.”
“This is a joke, right?” Damien, the least bit phased by what Dan said, turned and walked ten feet away from where they were standing and shielded his eyes from the sun for a better perspective of the horizon. “You can come out of hiding. We know you’re out there.”
“Son, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. That kind of talk will draw some attention you may not want to receive,” Dan’s eyes lightened showing the shift from protective parent to concerned adult.
“You’re an idiot!” Marjorie yelled.
Looking around him while he returned to the group, Damien said, “I know there is a camera hidden somewhere. I’ve seen things like this on YouTube. You know where they prank a bunch of people and film it.”
“I have a camera, if you’d like, I can go get it for you,” Dan offered.
Pushing his way to the center of the group, with an urgency in his voice, Damien spoke. “This is the plan. We act normal. Don’t react strongly one way or another and they’ll get bored and tell us it was a hoax. But I hope they do it soon, because if we don’t leave shortly, we’re going to miss the science fair.”
Angelica spoke softly, “Damien, I think things would go smoother if you let these men explain things to us.”
Considering the suggestion, Damien’s face softened. “Just don’t get mad at me, if we become the first class to miss the science fair.”
Her expression remained flat. “Our situation is a little more dire than that.”
Dan broke through to regain control of the situation. He said, “Let’s go sit on the porch and we’ll fill you kids in on what’s happening.”
They piled their backpacks by the door and took different seats around a picnic table. The wood smooth and unbuckled invited them to rest. Brian couldn’t decide if the pristine appearance was a result of it being new, or Dan’s long reputed diligence of caring for his belongings. Out of the corner of his eye, Brian saw Andrea nod in response to Selene’s whispered question, “Is this really Caitlin’s house?”
“Yes, but this looks a little smaller.” He smiled at the smirk Andrea gave when Selene looked back at the house in awe. From where they stood, they could see the windows to three bedrooms upstairs and they were only looking at one side of the house.
After everyone made themselves comfortable on the deck of Dan’s house, he asked Mark for his input. “Where do we begin?”
Mark rubbed his chin while considering the answer. “I think you should start with the beginning of the war. That’s when we started noticing changes around here.”
“Actually, I think I’ll start with a question.” Dan spoke to the group, “Has anyone recently wished or thought they wanted to be someplace else?” He searched the kid’s faces to discern the answer he was seeking. When he tried to make eye contact with Marjorie, she cast her eyes downward and started biting her pinky nail. “I may have wished that we could live someplace where we could do something more interesting than science.”
Damien gasped, “I thought you loved science. You’re the best in the class.”
“That’s because there’s nothing better to do.”
“I got into a big fight with my brother and told him I wished I had another family to live with.” Peter’s lips formed a thin line. “I didn’t mean it, I was just mad at the time.”
“I’m tired of having my mistakes follow me wherever I go. Sometimes I want to be someplace where things work out in the world, like they do in my head.” Demetrius’s eyes darkened.
“And I know I don’t have to ask you,” Dan addressed Caitlin and Brian. “Just yesterday Ella and I were wondering if our children’s children would love the land the way we do.”
All of a sudden the ground beneath Brian’s feet grew interesting. He did not want to tell them that being in the middle of an expanse of land was the last thing he wanted.
“Well let me tell you the brunt of what’s happening. Every once in a while a storm blows in. These storms started shortly after the war. From what we can tell, the storm opens something like a door that lets you walk through time. Over the past year, we’ve had three visitors. One was from the 1700’s; the other two came from the late 3000’s.
“I didn’t like them too much,” Mark broke in, “they treated us like we were cavemen and didn’t know how to add two and two together.”
“It was bad,” Dan agreed, “they kept trying to change our system. And don’t get me wrong, I’m open to change, but things like channeling energy from the air so we could have light around the clock was not anything I’m particularly interested in.”
“If that storm hadn’t come when it did, I’d of helped em find their way back to where they belong another way.” Mark snorted and laughed at the sound he made.
Dan’s eyes warmed and he chuckled at Mark’s appreciation of his own humor. “Anyway, when you have enough people wanting to be someplace else, it creates enough energy to open the door. And this is one of the reasons why I wasn’t amenable to using energy to create 24 hours of daylight.”
“If it’s a door, why aren’t the bus driver and Mrs. Almstead with us?” Eugene asked.
“She’s the last warning before you pass through. Did she give you instructions to not leave your wagon?”
“Our wagon?” Eugene raised one eyebrow in Damien’s direction.
“That thing you walked away from to get here. Your wagon. Anyway, did you get any instructions?”
“She told us to wait for her on the bus.” Recognition lit Eugene’s face, “So you mean to tell me that if we’d have stayed on the bus,” his face tightened in accusation, “we’d still be in the year 2015.”
“That sums it up fairly well,” Mark said. “We’ve heard about Mrs. Almstead from the last two people. Apparently she was a teacher of a class that.” He stopped to consider his words. “Anyway, they said they never have got the chance to meet her in person and that she was highly influential in making progress in the country.”
Eugene still trying to grasp the enormity of the situation asked, “So if I didn’t listen to Damien and his great idea we’d be back home.”
Holding his palms in the air, as though they would have a calming effect, Damien said, “How was I to know we’d walk through a door 100 years in the past.”
Demetrius held up his cell phone. “At least that explains why we don’t have a cell phone signal”
“Hey things were like that way before we ever traveled here,” Damien growled. “For mercy’s sake, we live in the middle of nowhere Montana!”
“Let’s focus on the result we want,” Andrea’s voice resembled a fairy godmother instead of a teenage girl. The effect was a natural change in demeanor of those around her. Mostly, she used it to rile people into antagonizing Selene. Her using it to the benefit of the class did not go unnoticed by Brian. He raised an eyebrow in wonder of what else she was able to do.
“Yeah, not that we don’t like it here, or anything like that,” Demetrius interrupted, “We’d like to get home before supper. How did the last group get back home?”
“There was the fire for the fellow from the 1700’s. After the smoke settled, we searched high and low, but never found him. After a while we figured that he went back to where he came from.” Mark said.
“And the thunderstorm. I hope that doesn’t happen again. It took us days to find all our cattle.” Dan added.
“The tornado was worse. Are you kids sure you don’t want to stick around? Every time you leave it does a number on us.”
“So we need to sit around and wait for a natural disaster to get us home?” Brian asked.
“You are home,” Dan offered. “We have something that might make staying here seem like a pleasant situation.”
Brian had no idea of what he had in mind, but it would have to be something cosmically awesome to get him to stay in Montana circa 1915.
Author note: What would you do if you had the chance to go back in time and keep the knowledge of the future? Let me know in the comments, or via twitter or my facebook page.
Within minutes, they reached a gap in the fence they all could fit through and crawled through the fence separating the prairie land from the road. After one person went through another was there to pass them their backpack from over the fence.
“I didn’t think you knew how to do anything physical,” Peter said to Brian as he handed off his backpack.
Brian growled, “Some of us actually help our parents around the house.” He snatched his backpack from Peter and marched away without looking back. Walking ahead of Caitlin towards her house, he felt a storm brewing in his mind. Caitlin rushed to catch up to him.
Peter’s yell to Brian, “Hey, wait up!” expressed both of their sentiment.
Through breath thin from rushing, Caitlin said, “You can’t let him get to you. It makes him think it’s working and he keeps it up.”
“I’m good at revenge if you want me to take care of him for you,” Andrea offered.
“Nah, it’s alright.” Brian slowed his pace so the girls could keep up with him. Nicholas and Eugene joined him on his right side.
Caitlin stopped walking and stared at a man approaching them. He seemed oddly familiar.
“I didn’t know your dad was back,” Eugene’s statement was more of an accusation than an exclamation of relief.
Caitlin slowed her pace to scrutinize the person approaching them. “That’s not my dad.”
The man in jeans and a plaid button down denim shirt walked confidently towards the group as though he was expecting them. As he got closer, he waved. Not knowing the correct response, Caitlin waved awkwardly. When he was six feet away, Caitlin understood why Eugene mistook the stranger to be her father. His dark wavy hair looked uncombed with the bangs curling around a cowlick above his left eyebrow. Like her father, he also had a crooked grin that people naturally returned.
Angelica’s quiet voice came from behind them. “If that’s not your dad then who is it?”
“I’m only going by pictures I’ve seen around the house.” Caitlin’s voice strained as she strained her eyes to understand what she was seeing in front of her. “It looks like my great grandfather Dan Adams.”
Andrea voice softened to sound like a bell moved by a summer breeze. “Are you sure? He looks too young to be a grandfather.”
“I’m not sure, but even down to the outfit he’s wearing he looks like the man in the picture on the family tree wall.”
The man close enough to see they were more curious than afraid quickened his pace. He walked directly towards Caitlin. “We thought you’d never get here. It’s good to see you Miss Love.”
Caitlin’s face paled at the use of her nickname. She turned to see her friend’s varying reaction to the new information. It went from Eugene’s curiously wide eyes to Selene’s mocking smirk.
“There’s no need to be worried,” he tried assuring them. “We haven’t had cattle rustlers in these parts for quite some time now. My guess is they’re off in Europe fighting the war.”
Nicholas pinched himself. “Are we dead? I’ve read that when people died they saw family members they hadn’t met.” He squeezed Brian’s arm. “Do you feel that?”
“If we’re dead, how can the rest of us see Caitlin’s family members and none of ours?” Selene rolled her eyes.
“Because I walked the fastest,” Dan answered.
As if on cue, a man that looked like an older version of Demetrius appeared over the horizon. “C’mon over here Mark,” waved the man over. “There’s some people I’d like you to meet.”
Marjorie’s cool voice addressed Nicholas’s question. “We’re not dead.”
“How can you be sure?” Peter’s voice shook.
“I can’t tell you how I know, but I know we’re not dead.”
“That’s good.” Dan joked, “Because I’m not ready to die quite yet.”
Author note: If you were able to have one person from your past guide you through a trial who would you choose? I am curious to know. Leave a note in the comments, or twitter or on facebook.
This is one of the alkali lakes the characters want to minimize. Last week Before being stranded by an alkali storm, they were heading to Helena to present their experiments in hopes of gaining attention and assistance in implementing their experiments on a wider scale. At the end of the chapter, they were stuck in the middle of nowhere and their teacher and bus driver disappeared. And the story takes off from there.
“Use your thumb,” her grandfather told her. “Hold it up against the mountain. When one side of the mountain is a hands measure to your right and the summit lines up with your thumb, you’re heading in the right direction for home.”
Out of habit, Caitlin held out her hand. The summit met her thumb. “We can always walk to my farm to get some help,” Caitlin offered. “It’s not far from here.”
Trying to make a decision without speaking, her classmates looked amongst each other, their eyes searching for the nonverbal cues of agreement or lack thereof. Hesitance gave way to the understanding of the lack of an alternative solution. Caitlin’s house was closer than the school. At least they’d have the ability to call for help and potentially salvage the day.
Selene, the only one who found a problem with the proposal, asked, “What about the alkali flat?”
The mentioning of the alkali drew Caitlin’s attention to the absence of it. A vibrant green field of prairie grass stretched for miles ahead of them. Caitlin scoured the scenery for the milky gray soil everyone dreaded seeing.
One time when she was younger, Caitlin made the mistake of walking through the field to come to the other end of the ordeal less one of her favorite pink paisley muck boots. Her father left it there as a reminder for Caitlin to keep her eyes open for hazardous situations.
“It’s on the edge of our land. If we walk the perimeter, we can get to our house safely.”
“How far it that?” Marjorie asked.
Caitlin pointed in the direction of her farm. “Honestly, a little less than two miles.” Everyone’s eyes followed the direction of her pointing until they fell on several small structures in the horizon that dotted the otherwise all gold and green landscape. Caitlin’s nose wrinkled, and she took a second look. “I’ve never seen it from this perspective after an alkali storm. I guess the alkali storm makes it harder to see the trees.” A sense of foreboding crept into her stomach. Why did her farm look so different?
“Or we can wait until someone drives by and wave them down,” Demetrius suggested.
Brian’s impatience bled through his usually calm voice. “We have been here for roughly an hour and I haven’t seen one vehicle drive by. I vote for walking.”
“Have you ever walked that far?” Peter taunted.
Brian rolled his eyes. The only reason he didn’t move around so much at school was because he worked an hour before school and an hour before dinner. Most of the time, he was too tired to keep up with Peter who bounced around from activity to activity like he was a character in a video game. Being the first to offer support to Caitlin’s idea, he knew his voice needed to be resolute. He turned to Caitlin. “Let’s do this.”
His confidence in her brightened Caitlin’s perspective. The Osterholt farm was three miles from the Christiansen’s farm. Apparently, Brian recognized landmark clues Caitlin missed.
For as long as she could remember, Caitlin’s mother warned her about the town kid farm kid competition and urged Caitlin to keep the specifics about their home quiet. As a result of her silence, Caitlin endured Selene’s incessant bragging about town homes being better than farm homes. An insult Selene made in fourth grade still hung in the air between them. “My home smells like flowers and baked bread. Yours smells like cow poop.” It wasn’t true. At the time, Caitlin didn’t have the words to describe the continually pleasant scent Lewis and Clark ultimately used to describe, and eventually name, the area where they lived. Its mixture of lightly floral and freshly mowed lawn fragrance triggered comments of agreement with Lewis and Clark naming the mountain and the area around it the Sweet Grass Hills.
Now the time had come for Selene to eat crow. Caitlin tossed her backpack over one shoulder, and Brian bounded down the stairs, keeping pace right behind her. It was the first time she earned and owned the right to be at the front of the group. By the time they were at the rear of the bus, the rest of the class was behind them.
“I’m glad I packed a lot of snacks.” A blue-eyed Nicholas waved a package of beef jerky and a water bottle. Over the years, the friends read Nicholas’s moods by his eye color. The darker the color the fouler the mood. Blue eyes meant he was comfortable.
“Only you would think of food at a time like this.” Selene’s tone softened. “Which is why I choose to stick by you in a time of crisis.” She held out her hand.
Nicholas made a face while breaking his beef jerky in half. “Remember this when I need a date for prom next year.”
“If we make it there, you have a deal.” Selene nodded and took a bite of the jerky.
Caitlin stole a glance at Eugene to gauge his reaction over the conversation. Her heart smiled at his grin of delight with the scene in front of them. He didn’t seem jealous or say anything to make himself look better to win Selene’s favor. Finally, one of the boys had broken free of the spell Selene seemed to cast on them thus giving the other girls in the class a chance to get noticed. In spite of the harrowing circumstances, the day was getting better and better.
~ ~ ~ ~
If anyone had driven by, they’d have taken a second look at the motley crew of 11 middle school students, who had been friends and enemies for longer than they’d ever be able to remember. Set out for an unexpected adventure, they walked in the opposite direction of where they were headed before the storm.
The unsuspecting passerby would also tell about the different variations of red and black jackets and coats accented with denim, camo, and khaki cargo pants. The winter prior, the school fundraiser sold a variety of coats with the logo and school mascot stitched on the left lapel. A normally bland side of the road looked more like a fashion show for the school than a group of kids stranded in the middle of the prairie.
Making sure to stay to the left of the road, they divided into groups of three. The first of many soon to come revelations came with Caitlin’s passing comment about the state of the highway. “Granted I’d never walked on it until now, but I would have sworn this part of the road was paved.”
Eugene added his concern, “I thought you said your house was on the perimeter of the alkali.” He lifted his hand to his eyebrow to scan the landscape in front of them. “This soil looks pretty good to me. Are you sure that’s your house over there?”
Caitlin answered with a look that stopped any further questions.
The wind from the storm died down into a breeze that hissed as it blew between the blades prairie grass. Sensing things were a little off, the groups once fairly spread out, huddled closer together. Caitlin silently thanked her mother for her insistence about Caitlin’s clothes. Her heart warmed at recognizing the accurate description her mother made about the dress she originally wanted to wear. The wind would have blown the thing over her head. Her warm jeans and layers of a long sleeve t-shirts under her school shirt provided better protection from the elements.
Andrea, on the other hand, wasn’t as well suited for the elements. Most of the time Caitlin envied Andrea’s ability to manipulate situations so well. Seeing how the cold affected Andrea in her camo leggings and black knit skirt changed her perspective into questioning Andrea’s logic.
“Did you bring your jeans in your backpack?”
Andrea moved her position to being between Caitlin and Brian. They weren’t much of a shield, but they were better than facing the elements straight on. “I left them on the bus.”
The mentioning of the bus made Brian look back to see how far they traveled. The bus was the size of his thumb, and from the size of Caitlin’s house, he knew they were at least twenty minutes away from a phone line. “I think it’s safe to say we lost the science fair this year.”
“It’ll be the first time we lost in like ever,” Damien said. “To say my dad is going to be upset is an understatement. For the rest of my life, I’ll have to hear about being the only one in the family who didn’t get a ribbon from the science fair.”
Everyone knew Damien was right. Every year his father bragged about his older brother’s accomplishments. They sympathetically watched Damien silently endure the comparison. “When Arthur was in sixth grade he read a book a week. When Arthur was in seventh grade he won the spelling bee.” The comparison changed from year to year, but the theme remained the same. Damien’s father believed Arthur to be the golden child and Damien, regardless of how he tried, was silver.
“Maybe you can make up for it another way,” Marjorie encouraged.
“Yes,” Angelica added. “Maybe you’ve been going about it the wrong way all this time. What if you go your own way, and do your own thing? You know try something different than your brother, your father will be happy.”
“If there was something different,” he moaned. “It’s not like we have a lot of choices living in a town of 500 people.”
Marjorie and Angelica nodded their understanding. Marjorie raised her cell phone in the air as if the change in position from her waist to above her head changed its ability to catch a signal. “I would think you were a god, if you invented a way for us to catch a signal.”
“I second that motion.” Peter snatched the phone from Marjorie and raced to the front of the group before she had any time to retaliate. Selene stuck her foot out just as he passed by her causing Peter to stumble forward. His stride lengthened and his arms waved in the air in an attempt to regain his balance. Neither worked and Peter ultimately fell on the ground which sent the phone flying into the field.
Caitlin rushed to help Peter get up. Brian ran to the edge of the road to see if he could find Marjorie’s phone. The prairie grass shielded the phone from the sun reducing its ability to cast a glare from the screen.
“That is my second phone since school started.” She groaned. “I don’t think mom will get me another one.”
Eugene ran towards the fence that separated the field from the road.
“What are you doing?” Andrea moved quickly to follow him. Brian pulled her back to the pavement. “He can’t go into the alkali alone!”
“I’m not.” Eugene’s prior statement still held true. There was no alkali anywhere. Eugene stopped in front of a fence post and bent to reach into a tuft of tall grass. “The screen is still intact even.” He pulled out the phone to show his find.
Everyone exhaled a collective sigh of relief, which made Eugene smile even brighter.
Author note: Please leave a comment or send me an email to let me know what you think of the story so far.
In the time I’ve been away from this blog wrote five books. Three are published under my romance writer name on Amazon. The fourth was inspired by a persistent group of 6th graders who insisted I write a book they could read. Using the nanowrimo challenge to keep the motivation levels high, the story was done in November. Now we’re in the revision stages and those darling children are unwilling to wait until May (the date I told them the story would be finished) to hear what they inspired. (Seriously, one of them is destined to be my business manager)
In the name of accessibility, I recorded and audio track. It is rough, like I’ll keep my job as a librarian rough, but if it gives a kid a chance to hear a story, I’ll put it out there.
I hope it is successful in transporting you to the world in my head…
~ ~ ~
The sense of excitement in the air was so thick Demetrius thought he could reach out, grab it, and contain it in a jar. This year, when the class presented their science fair experiments to the council in Helena, they were certain to win. He saw most of it in his mind. Damien confidently explaining how they conducted the experiment. Then Peter sharing their results, and finishing it off with Demetrius offering the conclusion. He also saw their research becoming a part of the system to improve the soil that was being contaminated, and consequently deteriorating many facets of life in their town.
Responsible for corroding pipes, softening the soil to the point of it being in a quasi liquid state, and altering the taste of their water, the white powdery substance offered various reasons for people seeking to live elsewhere in Montana. If they didn’t do something soon, the fate of the town was headed in the direction of becoming a ghost town with only old maps and train conductors to remind people it ever existed.
A dreamer for as long as he could remember, Demetrius saw something and thought or said, “what if we could?” After overhearing his parents discuss over coffee the possibility of moving, his once drifting focus honed in on the possibilities of doing something to save the town.
Before this idea, the times when he wondered outlandish things frustrated his teachers. Like the time he said he wanted to capture feelings in a jar. Mrs. Pryor, the fifth grade teacher, put an end to the idea and the various others that followed.
Reliving the memory, which he did often, still made Demetrius flinch inside. Believing his ideas were a form of mocking her, Mrs. Pryor kept him in from recess every time he shared one. The front of her hair stood straight making her look like she was caught in a wind storm and hadn’t realized it or didn’t care. “Every time you make fun of a lesson by giving a stupid idea, your recess becomes mine.”
Other kids in the class had equally bad ideas, but none of them were kept in. Over time things went from bad to worse. Demetrius never realized his ideas were bad until he saw Mrs. Pryor’s reaction. Recognizing he was on the losing side of a battle he didn’t understand, he grew used to the idea of not having an outdoor recess and used the time to his advantage. It gave him fifteen minutes to roam inside his head and analyze problems he otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
He survived three years of her, and although he was a little singed around the edges, Demetrius made it to eighth grade with Mrs. Almstead. To his surprise she embraced his ideas. The look of elation that crossed her face when he suggested something to the effect of capturing energy and using it to alter the physical properties of the alkali was the first of many signs the school year was going to be pleasantly different. Guiding his friends towards the vision, and empowering them to run with it was more than Demetrius was able to comprehend at time. He lived, yet still failed to understand how two teachers with completely opposite styles successfully worked in the same building and never conflicted or contradicted each other. Every once in a while, Demetrius watched the two women talk in the hall, and they seemed to be good friends.
A strong wind, stirring the landscape around him, pulled Demetrius away from his musings towards the primary reasons for their trip—the land that according to local legend used to be an ocean floor. Over the years, exploration trips and fossil finds removed the cloud of wonder with the tales transforming the legend to something people took on as being fact. In daydreams the rim became an ocean wall containing a life including whales, sharks and other awe inspiring creatures. And, the children learning within the walls of the building were once schools of fish.
Throughout the area, pockets of land coated in white dust reminded them of the substance spreading and threatening to take over their homes. Alkali bore the same consistency of a fine salt and softened the soil to the point of it being unsafe for people and animals. After rain storms, and the water evaporated, acres of a thin layer of alkali dusted the topsoil with a white film. It left farmers in a quandary. The precipitation they needed to survive, also served as a means for spreading the land altering chemical that threatened the livelihood of families who had been there for generations. If they didn’t do something, eventually Arcadia would become one of the ghost towns dotting the highway.
In that vein, the class shared Demetrius’s vision and added their own interpretations of how it could become a reality. Months later, they were scheduled to present three of their exhibits at the science fair. Damien thought using electrical impulses to alter the ph would make the soil more stable. Eugene, using his engineer’s mind, tried something a little more complicated. He believed pumping sturdier soil with an absorbent soil and extracting the water through a filtration system was a viable solution to their problem. The triplets, Angelica, Selene, and Marjorie went simple and proved plants that thrived in the soil also helped its host resist deterioration. Selene always explained it like it was common sense and she didn’t understand how people hadn’t come to the same conclusion. “When the plants soak up the chemicals the soil will return to normal. It’s not that hard people.”
Other people found Selene off putting. Demetrius found her honesty endearing. At least he knew where she stood on a topic. When he wasn’t thinking about the science fair, he spent his thinking time trying to figure out how to change her thoughts about him.
Caitlin and Andrea had the difficult task of finding the flaws in all of their arguments. Inadvertently, they knew more about alkali, physics, and earth science than all of the class combined. If given the choice, Demetrius preferred Caitlin’s thoughtful questions over Andrea’s argumentative approach.
Mrs. Almstead supported both methods of inquiry saying, “A presentation can make or break a judges decision.” Beginning with making them practice their presentation skills on younger elementary students, the class grew to have the attitudes and behaviors of a science consortium, and shed the typical antagonistic antics that develop from knowing someone for all your life.
Peter, the loudest of the group, balked at the idea. “How is helping little kids going to help us with the science fair?”
She patiently guided him towards her logical conclusion. “If you can explain something complicated to an eight year old and have them walk away understanding it, you’ll capture the attention of the judges. This is about more than winning. It’s about presenting your ideas in a way that will attract the right people to make it a possibility.”
As a result of her guidance, the class had two personalities. If they talked about the properties that resulted from a chemical conversion, the conversation grew lively and thoughtful. Change the topic to what to play during indoor recess—they ended up sitting quietly at their desks for the fifteen minutes. Yes, they were good at science. However, being friends was still a work in progress.
It was safe to say the competition strained the friendships as evidenced by the self chosen seating arrangements on the bus. Usually they sat clumped together in varying sections of the bus. Not wanting to be in the same room as, let alone talk to each other, the teams huddled in clusters around the bus. The groups separated by at least three rows of bus seats forced Mrs. Almstead to speak louder than her usual teacher voice.
Standing in front of the bus beside Alex, the driver, she began her pre trip talk. “Regardless of the outcome, I am proud of you.”
Demetrius couldn’t speak for the others, but he appreciated Mrs. Almstead’s ability to help them see their dreams could change the future if they shared them well.
“You are our future, and your dreams whether they’re big or small will change our world.” She gave the pep talk so often, the kids rolled their eyes when she wasn’t looking. This time her voice wavered lending gravity to the talk.
Pausing to let the words sink in, she looked at the roof of the bus until she was able to regain her composure. Her voice more stable, she went over the procedures for the science fair. ”The class will go as a combined team to the location where you are presenting. Once we get there the people who organized the science fair will separate you. Last year somebody complained that we were more like a television program than a group of kids trying to get a scholarship to college.”
The comment made the classmates look at each other and smile. Every year their school won the science fair. Not because they were better, it seemed like everyone in the community lived what most people only read about.
“On our way there, I’d like for you to discuss ways you can connect your exhibits in their mind. Caitlin and Andrea will be there intermittently to add comments to help. Remember, you are a team working for a solution not trying to win a prize. If you conduct yourselves as having like minds, you’ll present more professionally.”
Turning around to look at each other, the kids exchanged serious facial expressions. Their anxiety levels increased as she talked. They knew the science fair was a big deal and they didn’t want to be known as the group responsible for breaking the winning streak. Even more important, for the well being of their community, they needed the support the officials from the science fair were able to provide. Otherwise, within 50 years Arcadia would cease to exist.
Mrs. Almstead sat in the first seat behind Alex, the bus driver, and nodded her head as a sign for him to do what everyone really wanted. He plugged his iPod into the radio and began the playlist the class made for the trip. When the first song came on the radio they all asked the same question, “Who’s song is this?”
~ ~ ~
Too strong for any of their liking, The wind hissed through the windows. Out of habit they scowled at the window as if one day one of them would have the power to seal out the annoying sound. Blending with the music, the hissing made it difficult to discern if the song was country, dub step or heavy metal. For the first couple minutes Demetrius strained to hear the song. Eventually he could tell by the lassoing gestures the girls acted out, it was Andrea’s song. After a while, the distortion became so annoying he decided it wasn’t worth listening to the music and leaned into the aisle to join Peter and Damien’s conversation.
He almost immediately wished he hadn’t. Damien was trying to convince Peter why he shouldn’t be interested in Selene. “I know I can be bossy, but she has me beat. Do you really want a girl telling you what to do all the time?”
“Are you sure you’re not talking about Marjorie?” Peter asked.
Demetrius swore Marjorie had cat like senses. No sooner had Peter said her name when she peeked up from over the top of the seat. “Did you say something to me?”
Damien shook his head no. A wide eyed Peter leaned back into his seat and shrank lower. Demetrius turned to Marjorie and held his hand over his ear. He mouthed the words “I don’t know what they were talking about.”
Marjorie rolled her eyes, smiled and turned around to join the conversation with her sisters. Sensing they were in the clear Damien and Peter’s bodies began to shudder with the chuckles they tried holding in.
Suddenly the bus jerked, hurling people to the other side of their seat. The jolt was so strong, Alex, the usually short tempered bus driver, didn’t have to tell them to sit still or remain in one place. The girls pulled their knees up against the back of seat in front of them to brace themselves for the shaky ride. Using their backpacks for cushions, the boys leaned against the window and reclined in their seats.
Knowledge of the seriousness of the alkali storm tempered any good natured conversation that may have arisen on any other occasion. No one wanted to speak of the toppled semi trucks in years past. Outside the windows, a blizzard of white dust obscured their ability to see past the lane beside them. If a semi toppled, nobody would know until it was too late. Caitlin pulled a baggy of string out of her backpack. “I made these last night for good luck. Perhaps, now would be a good time to wear them.” The clear bag revealing the various colored string bracelets passed from row to row. Several kids hid the string bracelets in their pockets. Peter, who sat on the row opposite Caitlin’s seat, knew it was better to placate her than admit he didn’t want to wear the bracelet. He placed his on the bench beside him. “I’ll try putting it on when the ride is smoother.”
Alex’s tight voice came over his shoulder. “It’ll be alright kids. If I keep it at a slow pace I’ll be able to control the bus. The only thing we really need to worry about is the fool that thinks it’s safer to park in the middle of the highway.”
As though his voice stirred the storm to be stronger, the dust whirled brighter around them, like the glow from a candle, rendering them completely blind to anything outside the bus. Sensing something was going to happen, the boys who had been reclining, placed their feet on the floor and braced themselves for the jostle nobody really wanted to feel.
And then, something worse happened. The music stopped signaling the loss of power and the bus crawled to a stop. Alex’s arms flexed from trying to steer the bus without power steering and his back tightened to help against the push of the wind.
The bus slowed to a stop. He yelled back to whoever was listening, “I used the momentum to get to side of the road, but we’re still in dangerous territory.”
Instead of being at risk of hitting a smaller vehicle, they became sitting ducks. One semi truck pulled by the wind at the perfect time doomed them to be thrown in the middle of the alkali lake.
Coughing occasionally, the engine struggled to turn over, stopping when Alex pulled back from his effort to get it started. He tried several times until he rested his hands in the middle of the large steering wheel in a gesture of resignation.
He reached for the radio to call back to the school for assistance. The loud static faded and Alex pressed the button repeatedly as though there was a secret code that would revive it. He spoke to the air in front of him. “We did all the safety checks before we left the school. I don’t know what could be wrong.”
The wind died down to a gentle breeze, gradually increasing the visibility. Slowly, the landscape, slightly different than before the storm, appeared. Alex managed to park the bus within inches of the dirt road. If he had been to the right four more inches, the bus would have been on unsteady ground.
Using the back of one of the bus seats to brace herself, Mrs. Almstead spoke in hushed tones with Alex. The class could only hear pieces of words like “town,” and “I don’t know,” and Mrs. Almstead’s usual exclamation of “Oh dear.”
Sensing their conversation was not appropriate for the class Mrs. Almstead addressed them. “Kids, Alex and I are going to stand by the door and figure out the cause of the bus stalling. You need to stay here for just a moment.”
Peter motioned to speak and Mrs. Almstead held up her finger before Peter had a chance to voice his objections. He remained silent until they were outside the bus talking.
“Talk about bad luck,” Peter blurted.
“We’ll be okay,” Andrea, one of the few people who was able to keep Peter on the calmer side of a stressful conversation, consoled. “We can’t be that far out of town and one of our parents will see the bus parked on the side of the road.”
The entire class moved to the one side of the bus to watch the conversation through the window. None of them read lips well enough to decipher any of the words. Occasionally Mrs. Almstead’s eyes followed Alex’s gestures towards town or the engine of the bus. They both walked to the front of the bus and Alex raised the hood making it impossible for the kids to see the conversation.
Nicholas Dale opened his backpack and pulled out a piece of beef jerky and his water bottle. “It looks like we might be here for a while. I might as well get comfortable.” He held up his cell phone to confirm his suspicions. “We can’t get a signal. Until someone misses us we are sitting ducks.”
“I may be a lot of things, but a duck isn’t one of them,” Darien stood to go to the front of the bus. “C’mon Eugene, if any of us could fix this it’s you.”
Eugene crossed his arms in defiance. “But Mrs. Almstead said to stay here.”
“She’ll stop being upset when you tell Alex how to fix it.”
“But I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“Look!” Darien held his hands in the air to punctuate his statement. “Sometimes we have to do things without knowing the outcome. Just this weekend there was a rugby game between New Zealand and Australia. We’re talking important game on an epic scale. When their coach told them to win the game, the players from New Zealand never said ‘we don’t know how.’ They got in the game and figured it out. If we want to get to the science fair we are going to have to get involved.”
“Alright,” Eugene walked to the front of the bus. “If she yells at me, it’s your fault.”
“Did you just use Rugby as a metaphor to fix the bus?” Nicholas asked Darien.
Darien shrugged sheepishly, “It was all I had.”
Nicholas nodded his approval. “Nice.”
“They’re gone!” Eugene stumbled up the stairs.
He wasn’t the type of person who upset easily. The boys stood to run to the front of the bus and the girls used their knees to see above the bus seats.
“Did you look on the other side?” Selene rolled her eyes, “It isn’t like two adults could disappear in the atmosphere.”
“I may be awkward, but I’m not stupid, Selene. Of course I looked on the other side. They’re nowhere. They’re gone.”
The boys hurried to the front of the bus and pushed their way out the front door. The wind settled enough for them to see around them. They covered their mouths and noses with the front of their jackets. From the windows the girls watched them run around the bus, look under the bus, and divide themselves into two groups and go around the bus. They converged in confusion at the front of the bus.
“I don’t know where they could have gone.” Brian ran his fingers through his hair.
Selene gasped, “Now what are we supposed to do?”
****Author’s note : Please post a comment to let me know what you think of the story so far. I’m curious to know what works and what needs to go into the recycle bin.
A true lover knows things about their partner he or she doesn’t recognize in themselves. And, in a moment of time they’ll reveal this knowledge thus strengthening the bond. And here is where my tale begins…..
I have been ill for roughly seven days. In the beginnings of whatever icky bacteria/virus tried to overtake my immune system I slept. A lot.Having enough of the idleness, I pushed through with the help of a various assortment of cold remedies. Right when I thought the battle was won my voice took on the tone of a tyrannosaurus followed by the sound of gravel pushing out any attempts at communication.
This morning I woke and decided enough is enough. I told my better half that during my quarantine cleaning would happen. In his infinite wisdom he didn’t say much. I made bread dough for the week. As he walked out the door for church I said something to the effect of lunch being a recipe I read off the internet. The man raised his arms in the air in victory and announced, “My Merri is back!”Apparently when I’m at peace with my world, I’m a really creative cook. Who knew? And this proves the adage (at least in the case of my husband) true: “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
And so this story closed with a wish for you. In this season of giving and blessing, I hope you give as well as receive enthusiastic appreciation for who you are.
For me, the middle of the dream it’s quiet. And that’s where I’ve been since harvest. In the quiet, taking baby steps in a forward direction. My second book hit Amazon three weeks ago and the gears are gaining momentum as Nanowrimo approaches.
If you have never tried Nanowrimo, I encourage you to do so. It was the experience that helped me break through those internal obstacles.
Actually this post is an encouragement to step in the direction of whatever your dream may be.
So this blog closes with encouragement to take that next step-whether it is to begin your journey or to go ahead and take that next step.
Until the next post.
My absence from blogging is a direct result of going back to school and adapting to my old life style. Except I went back down to elementary school. The transition was not as smooth as I would have liked. Apparently eight year old children find high expectations overwhelming. Like I’m going to put my head down and cry overwhelming. (Sorry about that kids)
So-four weeks in. I get it. They like to sing and love cute phrases and embrace the wonder of life. The first song I sang them was the ant song.
Think he could move a rubber tree plant?
Everyone knows an ant can’t-move a rubber tree plant.
But he had high hopes. He had high hopes. He had high apple pie in the sky hopes.
So any time you’re feeling sad, just be getting glad and remember that ant.
Oh! oops there goes another rubber tree, oops there goes another rubber tree, oops there goes another rubber tree plant!”
Well the song is catchy and one of the kids continued humming it long after we were done with the moment thus driving all of us crazy. So I said to her, “Honey, you’re supposed to take the song and put it in your heart. Then it makes you feel happy inside.”
She asks me “How do you do that?”
My response is the classic teacher answer, “You have to practice and then one day it’ll happen.”
So we’re doing our social studies lesson when one of the boys yells “I just did it. She’s right.” His excitement has all of our attention. “I have the song in my heart. I can feel it. It makes me happy.”
I don’t know about the other kids, but my heart felt it. And I’ll be darned if those kids who used to cry at high expectations didn’t throw it back at me. Because now I’m racking my brain for songs I can remember from third grade to sing to them.
I love Friday for two reasons. It is Free Book Friday on the Barnes and Noble Nook Blog page. If that wasn’t enough to make it a good day, it’s pizza Friday!!!!
We are so remote and the population is small–restaurants are not an everyday thing. That makes Friday pizza special. Yes, the pizza is good…
And my hope for you is that this Friday and every Friday will be awesome–not because it’s the end of the week. It’ll be awesome because it’s a time to reconnect with people that are important to you and have no problem saying I’m happy to see you.
The morning began badly. We purchased fru fru coffee that was supposed to be good but wasn’t. Like I can’t drink it and need to go to the local coffee shop bad.
So that is what I did. And this is what happened….
Anybody from the far, far north can attest to the timeliness of the train. I have beat levels in Candy Crush waiting for the train. Fortunately it wasn’t that long and the precious black gold was in my cup and reviving my senses.
Well today started different and I knew it would be that way until the sun set. So, my characters joined me in my enjoyment of my favorite beverage.
And so this blog closes with the wish that good coffee is always in your pantry. And should something happen otherwise–may bad mornings turn into great afternoons.