Authors: Patricia Fulton,Extended Imagery
Copyright © 2010 Patricia Fulton
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual locals, persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Cover Design by Extended Imagery
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying recording, or by and inform storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law. Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved.
This book is for Jimmy Fulton.
None of this would be possible without you.
Thank you Jimmy for reading the same pages over and over again until I finally believed your insights were correct. There were a whole host of people out on authonomy.com that gave great feedback. Thank you Lisa Jackson, Julie Fulton and Leigh Merlo for your enthusiasm. You made me believe in the story again and gave me the energy to do another round of revisions. Ditto to Ali McDonald at the Rights Factory in Toronto. A special thanks to Joe and Dawn Nassise for reading and editing the first draft. It’s come a long way from there.
Lastly, for Mom—you took us to horror movies when you were too afraid to go alone, you weaned me on King and Koontz, and populated my world with people ripe with fictional potential. You should have been here for this.
In the spring, while Junction watched the skies for rain, something else blew in on the wind. Coming from the Gulf, the wind should have arrived with moisture and the promise of rain. But somewhere over Louisiana the hands of God reached up and wrung it out like an old, used-up wash cloth, leaving it bone-dry. This wind, dry as a smoker’s cough, whistled into South Texas, winding its way through gnarled mesquite trees, whispering through the grasses and stirring up the dust and long forgotten memories of the drought of 1950.
A year passed without rain. Twelve long months faded away, each season passing into the next without any distinction. The grazing fields dried out, the earth began to crumble and a fine coat of dust settled over everything. The temperature began to rise and an unrelenting heat settled over the town. The heat became erosive, licking away at the cool milky waters of the Llano River until an old drainage pipe burrowed deep inside a limestone bluff near Flatrock Bridge was revealed.
The changes that were visible were disturbing, but the more dangerous changes, the ones that would wreak havoc on the little town of Junction in the coming months, were still invisible to the eye.
One morning, without a word of warning, Hugh McManus took his shotgun out to the grazing field and shot the better part of a fine herd before turning the gun on himself. Nearing eighty-six, he held the distinct honor of being one of the few ranchers who had survived the five-year drought of the fifties, and knew what he was seeing.
His daughter, Maple, gave a beautiful eulogy, telling a poignant story about her childhood and how she used brown crayon to color in the grass on the pictures she drew. A drought survivor herself, she had no memory of the color green until she was eleven years old. She reflected back on Hugh’s strength during the first drought, summarizing her speech and Hugh’s life, with the words, “Sometimes a man just knows when enough is enough.”
The other ranchers, who understood a hard life and playing whatever cards the South Texas skies dealt, received her words with nods of agreement. Their solemn faces were as dark as the land they worked and crisscrossed with grooves that resembled sun-baked mud.
As the mourners made their departure, their cars trailing slowly up 20th Street, a dry wind gusted up out of the east, pulling restlessly at the mound of dirt waiting to fill the latest gaping hole in the Junction cemetery. The dirt, an unseen observer, floated on the wind. It followed the ragtag parade of cars, bearing witness to the near collision at 20th and Redbud, when Tad Redman’s Silverado nearly plowed over Barry Tanner who was riding his bike across town.
It shifted on the wind as Barry, uncaring of the squealing tires and blaring horns, zipped through the intersection and across old man Green’s backyard, coming out on lower Cedar Street.
Barry stood up, coasting over the curb and onto Cedar Street. Old man Green made it out his back door and yelled. “Stay off my lawn, Tanner!”
Unable to resist a good taunt, Barry yelled back. “It’s all dead anyway!” And it was. The lawns lining the streets were all brown. Junction, under a tight water ban, had withered.
His words were still floating on the dry air, his pedals in mid-rotation when the first sharp pain sliced through the right lobe of his brain. He landed on the seat of his bike with a grunt and felt his left eye spasm. The sharp ache throbbed there for a moment then disappeared as quickly as it had come. Sweat ran down his neck in soft rivulets, evaporating in the hot sun as it rolled across his naked back. Seventeenth Street was a blur, an automatic right turn on a path he could ride with his eyes closed.
He pedaled faster, his thoughts on the prize in his pocket and the price he would pay if he were caught. One hand left the handlebars and came to rest on the baseball resting in the pocket of his swim trunks. A small smile touched his lips and a look that could have been elation swept across his face. His body, rebuking him for the abuse on this hot day, sent out another warning.
A hot blade of pain bore tip-down into precious gray matter. Instead of cutting all the way through, the pain stopped behind his right eye and wedged itself deep behind the socket. His left eye twitched again.
He thought of his father’s prized collection, guarded, locked-up and under camera surveillance, safe against any intruder in the world, but not against his own son. A sneer swept across his face transforming the boyish good looks into a cynical mask. This latest indiscretion would probably earn him the beating of a lifetime, but the expression on his dad’s face when he saw the empty case would be worth a few bruises. Ignoring the increasing pressure in his head, he pedaled on, his hot breath coming back against his own face.
A few minutes later the dry gust of wind hit the side of a trailer home on 15th Street, causing the vent over the stove to flap crazily. On a windy day the rattling vent could drive a person crazy. Jared Riley (called Jar by everyone in town except his own mother) looked up in annoyance. He thought,
, and held his thumb over the volume button on the TV remote as if he had every intention of cranking it up, when in truth he wouldn’t dare, not while his mom was sleeping down the hall.
He moved his thumb and flipped through the meager selection of channels, groaning audibly at his choices of Judge Judy, Hollywood Squares and the syndicated reruns of Jerry Springer. The rest of the channels were fuzzy. They didn’t have cable. Abandoning his hunt he stretched out on the floor and stared at the ceiling. The cool air from the air-conditioner ran over his body. Footsteps on the deck outside made the floor vibrate. He had a visitor.
Jar cracked open the door to a blast of hot air. Barry, his best friend, stood outside. He was wearing swim trunks and had a towel hanging around his tan shoulders. Squinting against the bright sunlight, Jar asked the obvious. “Hey man, you going swimming?”
“No dickwad, I came all this way to look at your hairless chest.”
Self-consciously Jar rubbed his hand across his chest, and slid the door wider. “Hurry up. My mom will kill me if she sees this door open.” Barry sauntered past, and Jar got a good look at the hair starting to grow on his chest.
“Give me a minute. I’ll go change.” On the way to his room Jar paused in front of his mother’s door but didn’t knock. He could hear her even breathing through the thinness of the door and he didn’t want to wake her. She’d been complaining about headaches for almost a month. When she wasn’t working down at the diner, she came home and slept.
His room didn’t have a real door, just a brown blanket his mom had hung a few months earlier when he turned twelve. He ducked under the blanket. Clothing littered the floor. He found his swim trunks and grabbed a wadded towel from the corner. He gave it a sniff. It smelled faintly of mildew.
In the living room, Barry was sitting on the couch with a can of Dr Pepper balanced on his knee. On the television, Jerry Springer moved farther away from the stage, signaling to the audience things were about to get ugly. One of the men stood up, brandishing a chair and threw it at another man. Security moved in, and the audience went wild. The title of the show appeared in the corner. “WHAT I REALLY THINK OF YOU, DAD!”
Jar stood behind Barry and watched the stage get destroyed by a beefy guy. He said, “Let’s go, if we’re going.”
Barry didn’t look away from the chaos on the television. He drained the can and burped, “We’re going.”
They went outside and headed for a beaten down path that cut through scrub oaks and mesquite trees. They walked in silence for awhile until Barry pulled a baseball out from under his towel. He tossed it in the air a couple of times until it caught Jar’s attention.
Jar glanced between the ball and Barry. “Man, I’m not playing catch in this heat, so you can just forget it.” The dry wind found its way through the trees, and a small dirt devil danced on the path a few feet ahead of them.
Barry gave a smug smile. “This ball ain’t for playing catch.”
Jar tried to get a better look at the ball as it deftly left his friend’s hand. “It’s just a baseball, right?”
Barry raised his eyebrows and exaggerated a disappointed sigh. “Well, I guess in some ways it’s just a baseball… and in others it’s the only baseball that won the sixth game during the 1975 World Series in the 12th inning.
Jar’s jaw dropped open in disbelief. “You’re a damn liar!”
Barry laughed and caught the ball in his hand. He spun it around and displayed the scrawled signature of Carlton Fisk, the year 1975 etched neatly beneath the name.
Awestruck, Jar reached out to touch the ball, his fingertips running lightly over the signature. In a voice hollow with dread he asked, “Where did you get it?”
Grinning, Barry turned the ball so he could admire the signature. “I borrowed it from my dad’s collection.”
Jar took a step back and his hand dropped to his side. “Take it back right now, before he sees it’s gone.”
A shadow touched Barry’s handsome face and he gripped the ball tighter. “Forget it Jar, I’m not taking it back until I’m ready.” He stepped past his friend and started down the path toward their swimming hole.
Jar stared grimly at Barry’s back and the three-inch scar just below his shoulder. It should have served as a reminder to Barry not to touch his dad’s collection. But it didn’t. If anything he taunted his father more than ever. There were days when Barry would show up with a black eye or a fat lip, all gifts from his father. He laughed them off, displaying them like badges of courage.
A sick feeling churned in Jar’s stomach. The only time his mother had ever hit him was after he had stayed out all night without calling. She had whipped him good with a switch from a tree and she was crying the whole time. Barry’s dad might be the richest man in Junction, but Jar wouldn’t trade places with Barry Tanner for all the money in the world, not even if it meant getting cable TV.