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Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts

Monday, September 23, 2013 3 comments

Pigments of My Imagination Blog Tour

All aboard!

When I first ran across Angela Kulig a few years ago, she had posted an excerpt to her novel in progress on her blog. A girl starting art school stumbles across a boy painting swans in a pond. But the water in his painting ripples, and the swans swim and fly. I was captivated by this sample, and figured (given a sufficient amount of justice) Pigments of My Imagination would be a hit.

Time went by. Angela got picked up by Red Iris, rewrote Pigments of My Imagination to suit the darker tone of their titles, split with the publisher, rewrote it back to something closer to the original. She founded a co-op, I was invited to join, and most of the other members fell away, leaving the two of us having each others’ backs. As she puts it, I make the insides look good (editing, formatting), she makes the outsides look good (cover art, marketing). We spend a lot of time IM’ing each other.

But Pigments of My Imagination was still “coming.” It went through yet another rewrite. I’d poke her about it every once in a while. Be careful what you ask for… she got me to edit and format it. I wasn’t the only one waiting for the finished product, and never expected that I would be a major part of it getting finished.

But it’s done. It’s out.

And it delivers. And I get to be the first stop on the blog tour!

Here’s the synopsis:

From the moment Lucia steps into Bayside Art Academy, she is fed a steady stream of lies, but it’s not until she meets William that she begins to question the people she trusts. Unraveling fact from fabrication seems impossible until Lucia finds her first painting, and discovers the dead do not lie—at least not to her.

A dozen lifetimes ago, Lucia started a war. Not a war with armies or guns, but a bloody war nonetheless. The path leading Lucia to the truth is hidden within lovely art that spans the ages. In this life, however, Lucia doesn’t know where to look. Lost, she turns to the one thing she knows with certainty—she is in love with Leo, and has been before.

Of the Green Envy Press titles, this is the first to have both eBook and paperback editions! To celebrate, Angela has a Goodreads giveaway of two paperback editions. Go forth and enter!

There’s also a Rafflecopter—win a Kindle Fire and other cool stuff:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you want a better shot at winning the raffle, follow Angela so you can get to the next stop on the tour:
And if you can’t wait, you can grab an eBook (or paperback!) at Amazon, B&N, or Kobo.

Thursday, May 09, 2013 11 comments

Release Day!

Launch Cannon: Fire!
Come back often over the next several days, there will be updates. The raffle is now in place!

I’m both happy and relieved to send Pickups and Pestilence on the greatest road trip of all: into your Kindles, Nooks, tablets, and computers! So, it’s time to celebrate!

First off, White Pickups is on sale for 99¢ all week. If you haven’t grabbed the book that Michael Tate said “should be heralded as the poster child for how self-publishing should be done,” grab it while it’s 66% off! If you’ve already bought it, download a fresh copy to get an edition with a new cover and a handful of typos squashed. (Updated edition may not be everywhere at this moment, but it’s coming.)

If you haven’t grabbed my anthology Oddities yet, it’s FREE on Amazon through Saturday. I think I’ve gone crazy… I’d like to see at least 100 downloads a day. So tell everyone about what book blogger Eric “Frodo” Townsend called “one entertaining story after another.” Help them download it. Whatever it takes. Hey, it’s free, right? This giveaway’s over. Thanks to all who downloaded! But it’s still only 99¢ for now. If you still want some free reading, my fantasy novella The Crossover is ready to take you far from home (and bring you back).

OK, now for the blurbage and linkage:
“Humanity decides its own fate and the means by which it comes.”

War, locusts, vermin. The world continues adjusting to the Truckalypse, and to the sudden disappearance of billions of people, seeking a new balance. People in Laurel Hills and elsewhere survive and try to rebuild what they can.

When a vision reveals the nature of the trucks, it is young Cody Sifko who must become humanity’s champion. His friends—and the enigmatic Delphinia—will stand with him, but he must face his inner demons alone.

Pickups and Pestilence takes you on a ride from suburban Atlanta, to the heights of Heaven and the depths of Hell. Buckle up and hang on!

A couple places around the net where you can hear from both author and characters (and others):
And now, the part you’ve all scrolled down past the other stuff for: the prizes! ;-) Click the arrows to see what's up for grabs.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, May 02, 2013 13 comments

Excerpt: Pickups and Pestilence (#FridayFlash)

What a long trip it’s been: three and a half years. But Pickups and Pestilence is back from the editor, and it’s rolling out on Thursday, May 9! To celebrate, here’s a little excerpt…

Add to Goodreads!
There came a break in the monotonous truck traffic, and Cody stood on his pedals. “Let’s get this dam ride started!” He led them into the road.

“Good to be out and about again!” Stefan laughed.

“You’ve been out,” said Palmer, drafting behind him.

“Yeah, but not for a real trip!”

“I’m kind of surprised Elly didn’t give me a lot more grief about making this run,” Cleve told Tina. “She likes to keep me close, like I’m gonna disappear if her back’s turned.”

“You’re probably the best thing that ever happened to her, Cleve,” Tina replied. “She doesn’t want to lose that, I’m sure. She’s had a hard life.” Elly, a former nursing student, had become homeless after assaulting a doctor who had sexually harassed her.

Behind Cleve, Delphinia pedaled along, her cloak and long blonde hair waving, her Braves cap dangling on the handlebars. She hummed quietly, and an occasional note reached Max behind her. Tim brought up the rear, pulling the other trailer and marveling at how well things had started. Behind them, the white pickups bunched up, biding their time, passing when it was clear. After a couple of miles, they—and the trucks—had to dodge the occasional limb or tree in the road, leftovers from January’s ice storm that they hadn’t started clearing. They took a brief break at Peachtree Industrial, waiting for a chance to cross, but everyone was comfortable with the pace.

Just past the halfway point, a little north of Highway 20, a huge tree blocked both lanes. They had to portage the bikes and trailers over it. The upside was that they had the road to themselves for nearly a mile afterward.

As they passed a church, Tim called over the handheld radio: “Cody, stop!”

Cody braked and thumbed the mike. “What’s up?”

“Delphinia swerved off at that church. She’s taking down the letters on their sign.”

“Do we need to turn around?”

“Not for now. Just pull everyone off. If she’s gonna be a while, I’ll let you know.”

Cody make a rude noise and stopped, waving down the others.

In the church parking lot, Tim and Max watched her work. The sign in question read, on both sides:


Tim tried to remember Delphinia looking angry about anything before this, and couldn’t, but now she looked furious. Even her hair seemed to billow and toss as she snatched letters off the sign, in alphabetical order, stacking them in her hand. She muttered as she stormed to the other side and took down those letters.

With the sign clear, she closed her eyes and laid her head and free hand against it for a moment, then stomped up the steps and tried the front door. Finding it open, she stepped inside then returned after a few seconds. Her emotional storm had passed; she looked cheerful as ever as she remounted her bicycle. “I am finished here,” she said, “please forgive the delay.” She pedaled away, Max close behind. Tim radioed Cody, pushed hard to catch up, and they resumed the ride.

• • •

The group stopped again when they reached Buford Dam Road, taking a short water and snack break in the parking lot of an empty restaurant. “About a mile to go,” said Tim, looking at the map.

“There’s people around,” said Cody, stepping out the door of the restaurant. “They cleaned the kitchen out totally. I think they even took some of the pots.” He rejoined the others.

“How’s the leg doing, Stef?” Palmer asked his partner.

“Pretty good, actually,” Stefan smiled and flexed it. “A little stiff, but I need to finish getting it built back up. Good thing we set an easy pace, though. Can’t wait to get back in shape!”

“You’ll get there.” Palmer gave Stefan a brief hug, a rare public display of affection.

“We ready?” asked Cody, jumping on his bike. “Let’s roll.”

“A kind word turns away wrath,” Delphinia told him, gazing at him with those deep blue eyes before mounting her ride, her own wrath forgotten. Cody shrugged, waited for a break in the truck traffic, and led them out. After a mile, the road reached the lake and Cody stopped again to look at the water. Nobody objected.

“Looks okay,” said Tim, looking out over the lake. Judging from the erosion above the water, the lake looked two feet short of full. “Maybe there’s some automated systems still working.” The water itself lapped at the shore, blue-green and sparkling in the mid-morning sunshine. “Let’s go find out,” he said. “We’ll have a look at the control room, maybe, then we can set up camp at one of the parks and do a little fishing.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Cleve. “Where’s the park?”

“There’s several. Three or four up the road, two more on either side of the river below the dam.”

“Let’s try the first park, then.”

“Yeah, my thoughts exactly.”

The first park was promising—there was a management office, but it was empty. They found nothing else at the first and second parks, on the right side of the road, but then Cody saw a sign that said POWERHOUSE, on the left. He pointed to the sign and made the turn, banking into the entrance. “Shit!” he yelled. He locked his brakes and swerved; the bike and trailer skidded to a halt. “Barricade!” Palmer and Stefan split and went around either side of Cody, braking hard. The others, alerted to trouble, slowed and stopped without incident. They bunched together around the barricade.

“Everyone okay?” Cody asked. “Sorry. I shoulda been paying attention better.”

“Me, too,” said Cleve, looking past Cody. “Everybody, off the bikes. No sudden moves.”

Cody turned to look. Not far from the barricade, partly obscured by dappled shade, stood a man in camo. Cody thought and Cleve knew, he carried an automatic weapon.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 6 comments

Truckalypse Covers!

In lieu of Writing Wibbles this week, I’m happy to show off some new covers by Angela Kulig. As part of the upcoming launch of Pickups and Pestilence, we’re cleaning up a few typos in White Pickups and giving it a new cover! They’ll look like they ought to, two books whose covers reflect their close relationship.

OK, OK, here they are!


And here’s the start of a blurb for Pickups and Pestilence. Don’t forget to click the button to add it to your to-read list:

“Humanity decides its own fate and the means by which it comes.”

War, locusts, vermin. The world continues adjusting to the Truckalypse, and to the sudden disappearance of billions of people, seeking a new balance. People in Laurel Hills and elsewhere survive and try to rebuild what they can.

When a dream reveals the nature of the trucks, it is young Cody Sifko who must become humanity’s champion. His friends—and the enigmatic Delphinia—will stand with him, but he must face his inner demons alone.

Pickups and Pestilence takes you on a ride from suburban Atlanta, to the heights of Heaven and the depths of Hell. Buckle up and hang on!
I am really looking forward to this release, which is currently scheduled for April 25. If it doesn’t hit by then, though, it’s because I’m busy making this the best it can be.

Monday, March 28, 2011 7 comments

White Pickups, Episode 80

What a long strange trip it’s been… and it’s only half-over.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Johnny fed the end of the pipe through the fence to Cody. Cody slid a clamp and a piece of rain gutter over it. He applied glue to one end of an elbow, pushed it into the pipe, then clamped it.

Cody glued a short length of pipe to the open end of the elbow. Elly passed a rain gutter elbow to Cody, who slipped it over the pipe. He pushed the rain gutter pieces together and slipped the end into an empty rain barrel they had moved from the townhouses. They planned to move the other barrels if everything went the way it should. Cody looked at the overflow outlet: a garden hose led to the pond down the way. So far so good. Opening the lid, he pushed the pipe onto the float valve and tested it. It felt smooth right up to the valve closing. “I think that’s it!”

A cheer went up from the others; everyone was there to watch. Charles lifted the handheld radio. “You ready to tell them to let it start?”

Cody nudged Kelly. “Hey, this was your idea. I think it’s fair you give the word.”

“Whatever,” she said, but reached for the radio. “Just don’t give me too much grief if something messes up.” She thumbed the push-to-talk. “We’re done down here, guys. Go ahead and open it.”

“Roger,” Palmer said. “And… it’s on! Tim has turned on the spigot. The water’s really pouring, you can hear it pretty good.” He held the radio to the pipe and they could hear gurgling. The crowd cheered again.

“How long’s it gonna take?” Kelly asked.

“About half an hour, I figure,” said Johnny. “The water’s probably moving at a jogging pace, call it maybe a ten-minute mile or a little faster.”

“Whoa,” said Palmer over the radio some minutes later. “We’re getting a bunch of air bubbling back up here.”

Johnny took the radio. “It’s probably reaching the adapter where we switched over to roll pipe,” he said. “It can’t push all the air out this end fast enough, so some’s coming back up.”

Cody reached into the barrel. “Whoa. You can feel a breeze now.”

“Let me see.” Kelly reached in. “Yeah. That’s so weird. Wind inside a rain barrel.”

“Not so weird,” her dad said. “Wind is just air being displaced. The water is replacing — and displacing — the air.”

“Hm,” said Cody, “I wonder…” He lifted the float. The breeze stopped, but after a few seconds he could feel the air pushing back. He let the float go, and the air puffed out in a soft whoosh. “Heh. Cool.”

“Easily amused,” Kelly grinned.

“No reason not to be, yo?”

“Good point.”

A few minutes later, the rain barrel emitted a glurk noise. “What was that?” Kelly asked.

“Must be getting closer,” said Cody. He reached in again. “Yeah. I think the breeze is colder than it was. Check it out.”

“It is,” said Kelly. Another glurk, followed by a few thumps. “That sounds weird. I hope everything is okay.”

“I’ve heard weirder noises than that in water lines,” said Johnny. “Tim and Palmer are gonna ride the line to check for leaks, anyway.”

They stood and listened to the noises, felt the breeze — it seemed to be stronger than before. Listening, they could hear the air pushed into the barrel.

Suddenly, the wind noise dropped in pitch and then died. A series of gurgling noises, the pipe twitched, and splashing noises.

“Water!” Cody yelled, looking inside. “We have water!” The crowd erupted in cheers and applause.

Johnny winked and handed the radio back to Kelly. “Guys! It’s here!” she called.

“Great!” Palmer said.

Suddenly, Cody whooped and grabbed Kelly by the waist, spinning her around, surprising her with his strength. He let her go, cupped his hands, and called out, “Ladies and gentlemen! I give you — Kelly’s Pipeline!”

As the people cheered once again, Cody turned back to Kelly with a big grin. “See? I told you it wasn’t a dumb idea!”

“Yeah, yeah. But you made it work.” She hugged him, he hugged back — and without thinking about it, Kelly planted a kiss right on his lips. Cody startled for a moment, then… kissed back. Charles looked at the clouds and whistled a few random notes.

The cheers around them redoubled. Neither of them knew whether it was for the water, or for them — and neither one cared.

Here ends Book 1 of the Truckalypse.
Book 2, “Pickups and Pestilence,”
is in progress.

Monday, March 21, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 79

Sunday, March 11, 2012

“Check this out!” Cody said, dropping a newspaper on the table. “How did we all miss this?”

Tina looked at the headline and the date. “I guess we weren’t thinking about newspaper deliveries at the time.” Charles, Kelly, and Johnny laughed.

Johnny laid out the yellowing paper, dated Friday, September 16, 2011 — the final edition of the Gwinnett Daily News:
‘No Terrorist Connection’ to Disappearances

An Obama administration spokesman ruled out any terrorist connection to an ongoing spate of disappearances, but would not speculate who or what was behind them.
“Like their guesses were any better than ours, right?” Charles chuckled. He began skimming the subheads and other headlines: “Disappearances Hampering Investigation. Worldwide Phenomenon. Commerce Paralyzed. Sporting Events Cancelled. Cody, is this the whole paper?”

“Yeah. Eight pages.”

“Looks like they just printed what they had Thursday night,” said Johnny. “Anything in there about the trucks?”

“Um… yeah.” Charles poked the article about halfway down, and read: “When asked if the mass disappearances were connected to a sudden appearance of white pickup trucks on the roads, the spokesman said ‘There is no hard evidence, but much suspicion.’ Yeah. Hey, this is good: ‘Plant Vogtle Placed on Standby.’ I’ve worried about that.”

“That’s a nuke plant, ain’t it?” Johnny asked.

“Yeah. Down in Augusta. I hope all the other ones got shut down, too.” Charles thumbed through the paper. “You have to hand it to these guys — it was getting pretty chaotic by then, and they still got a paper out. Heh… and they put the comics in, too.”

Kelly pointed at an article across from the comics. “Religion: ‘Rapture’ Speculation Unfounded. What’s that about?”

“Reverend Steven ‘Hitch’ Hitchman, pastor blah blah, weekly commentary on religion, blah blah. ‘No Biblical parallel’ —”

“What’s not parallel?” Patterson peered over shoulders to look. “Is that a newspaper?”

“Yeah,” said Cody. “Me and Tim were going through some of the local construction places to see if they had any stuff for Kelly’s pipeline. This was sitting on a table in one of them. I thought people would be interested.”

“Their religion columnist probably got a few too many people asking him if the trucks were part of the Rapture thing,” said Charles. “He was saying there’s no parallel to the trucks in the Bible.”

“Ah. I used to say, if the brethren put half the effort into feeding the hungry and healing the sick as they did speculating about the Rapture… but that’s no longer an issue.”

“What was that Rapture thing about anyway?” Cody asked.

Patterson shrugged. “There were several end-times interpretations, but the most widely accepted was that all Christians would be taken up to Heaven — raptured — at the beginning of the Tribulation. That was a seven-year period in which the Antichrist — Satan in human form — would be free to wreak havoc on the earth. After seven years, Christ and all the saved would return to earth, defeat the Antichrist, and rule for a thousand years. That’s the heart of it, anyway. If I went into details, we could be here until bedtime.”

“A lot of different people jumped in those trucks,” said Johnny, “including a couple atheists I knew — and you’re living proof that some Christians were ‘left behind’. I read those books.”

“Yes. And the Rapture was supposed to happen all at once — ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ — not spread out over three or four days.”

“People actually spent time studying this?” Charles looked incredulous.

“Oh yes. And any time there was an extended crisis, especially in the Middle East, there were people proclaiming the End Times were upon us. Rapture Fever really took hold in the ’70s, during the various conflicts of the time, then died back with the conflicts themselves through the 80s, and re-emerged as the millennium drew near. But as I said, I could talk about this all afternoon and not cover it all.”

“Cody, did you find anything that will help with the pipeline?” Tina asked. “This paper is certainly an interesting find, but…”

“Oh yeah. We might have. How much gas we got left?”

“A few hundred gallons, maybe,” said Kelly. “Why?”

“We found a Ditch Witch,” Cody said. “If it works, we can just bury your pipe. Once we’re sure it’s not leaking or anything.”

Johnny sputtered, then laughed.


“You — you gotta see this!” Inside the paper was a half-page ad for Perry Adams Chevrolet/GMC/Hummer. Some laughed, some gasped at the headline: OVERSTOCK! PICKUP CLEARANCE! Below the headline was a photo of the proprietor, standing with two thumbs up in front of a line of pickup trucks — all white.

“I’ll be damned,” said Tina. “The end of the world, and that shady quick-buck artist was still trying to pull in a few more suckers.”

“With any grace, you won’t be damned,” said Patterson. “But I wonder what happened to this particular individual. Did he drive off in one of those trucks? Did he die, by his own hand or starvation or murder? Or is he still living on the fruits of his dishonest labor?”

“I don’t know, and I really don’t care. I went there last year before I bought my Impreza. Mister Perry Adams himself waited on me. He tried to push me into a Tahoe, after I told him what I was looking for, and it wasn’t a gigantic SUV. He ignored everything I said, then he wrote up the papers and told me to bring my husband in to close the sale!”

Charles snorted. “I can imagine that went over like a lead balloon!”

“I let him know I wouldn’t doing business there, and would tell everyone I knew to avoid them like the plague, then I walked out. That SOB tried to physically bar me from leaving and jabbered at me until I told him — loudly — I was calling the police if he didn’t let me leave that instant. I had my phone out and had 911 punched in before he got enough clue to move!”

Charles and Johnny laughed, and Patterson grinned. “Yeah, that sounds like Mom!” said Kelly.

“We should give this paper to Ben,” said Cody. “He’s trying to write our history or something. He’ll want to see it.”


Monday, March 14, 2011 5 comments

White Pickups, Episode 78

Thursday, March 8, 2012

They called it The Great Critter Roundup, and people laughed no matter how many times they heard about it. With the spring head built and holding water, it was just a matter of routing and gluing pipe, and Cody was more than equal to supervising that. Johnny, Tim, Jennifer, and Janet pulled trailers, riding slowly to let the kids keep up. All five kids came along, all a little uncertain about what they could do but excited to be outside Laurel for the first time since October. All were armed against dog attacks — adults with firearms, kids with ammonia-filled Super Soakers — but they had no problems.

Crossing the freeway, they picked up Old Peachtree Road and followed it to Braselton Highway, continuing east through outer suburbia and exurbia through the morning. Finally, the houses and subdivisions thinned out and began to give way to pastureland. Several cows grazed in one pasture, and Johnny waved them all to a halt to look them over.

“They don’t look too bad off,” said Johnny, peering through a pair of binoculars. “I’m guessing a lot of their fellows died out through the winter, though.”

“So are we gonna try getting them?” Jennifer looked dubious. A white pickup rolled by, slowed. You need wheels to catch them. Let us help.

“Probably not. Meat cows like those, they liked to keep their distance even from the farmers back Before. We’ll have to get lucky, maybe find a couple calves that have been weaned but would still be young enough to get used to people.” Johnny made a shooing gesture at the truck, and it rolled away. “I figure we’ll be out here more than once, especially after we get the pipeline finished. This trip, we’ll call a success if we catch us a dozen chickens or so.”

“So what are we gonna do?” asked Caitlin.

“Look for a place with chicken houses. Maybe someone opened the doors before they drove off… or whatever. Most of the birds would be dead, but a few probably survived the winter. Those are the ones we want anyway — the ones that made it through the winter by foraging. They’ve figured out how to avoid predators and won’t need a lot of attention.”

“How are we gonna catch ’em?” Sheldon asked.

“If we find any live birds, we’re probably gonna find ’em in or between the chicken houses. It’s shelter, but it’s also a bottleneck. And we brought nets.”

They rode another half hour before spotting the first chicken farm. Both houses were closed up tight, and only insects and rats were to be found alive inside. Johnny led them to the farm house, and they had lunch on the spacious porch before riding on.

The next set of chicken houses they found by spotting the chicken first — it walked in the ditch on the side of the road, pecking at an unseen lunch. When they got too close, it waddled up the bank and through a screen of trees. Johnny called a halt and followed the chicken, finding four open chicken houses. He slid back down the bank. “We’re in luck,” he said, looking up and down the road. “I think that’s the entrance. We rode right past it.”

They stopped at the top of the driveway, looking over the chicken houses and an equipment shed off to one side. Several dozen chickens milled about, inside and outside the houses, pecking at the ground and occasionally flapping their wings.

“What do we do? How do we catch ’em?” Ben asked, wide-eyed.

“We’ll have to do a bunch of stuff to get ready before we even try grabbing any,” said Johnny. “The ones inside will be easiest, as long as we have the cages set up and waiting for them. But we’ll have to go way around to not spook the others.”

Johnny, Jennifer, and the boys carried nets and cages around to the back of the chicken houses, and set up the traps Johnny built over the last few days: nets, roughly six feet high and set in a triangle, between the houses. Where the apex of the netting met the ground, a short piece of culvert pipe led into a cage. “With this setup, they only have one place to go,” Johnny explained. “We’ll be carrying nets as we drive ’em toward the cages, so they can’t slip between us and get back the other way.” At the back end of each house, Johnny left the doors open just wide enough to place the culvert in between. He found some tarp in the equipment shed and tacked it up to discourage chickens from jumping over the culvert. With their traps set, they made their circuitous way back.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” said Tim as the others rejoined the girls and him at the equipment shed. “A little calf just wandered up in between two of the houses.”

“Great,” said Johnny, not at all pleased. “If he gets spooked, he’ll take down the nets at the back! We’ll have to shoo him out of there before we start. We’ll probably scatter a few chickens too.” He turned around and stomped back around the side of the last house — now that the nets were set, there was no worry about spooking the birds.

Ben and Sheldon slipped down to peer around the corner. Johnny came around the back, slipped through the net, and started waving his arms. “Hyah! Get outta here! Hyah!” The calf munched grass, unconcerned, until Johnny drew closer. As Johnny took two quick steps and shouted again, the calf turned and trotted toward the front. The boys watched it approach.

“Bet you can’t catch it,” Ben whispered to Sheldon.

“I could if I wanted too.”

“I’ll give you a dollar if you catch it.”

“Money ain’t worth anything, stupid! But watch this.” As the calf neared the corner closest to the boys, Sheldon rushed out and launched a flying tackle — and was nearly as surprised as Ben and Johnny when he landed on top of the calf! He wrapped his arms around its neck and his legs around its body as it bellowed for help, then he jerked to one side and landed in the gravel on one hip, still wrapped around the thrashing calf.

“Ben! Help!”

“Ben!” Johnny yelled, rushing toward them, scattering chickens on either side. “Use your shirt! Sit on its back legs and tie ’em together!” He pulled off his own shirt as he ran. Ben shucked his t-shirt and got it around the calf’s legs as Johnny arrived, wrapping his own shirt around the calf’s front legs. Immobilized, it stopped struggling and lay huffing on the gravel, eyes rolling.

“Get it off me!” Sheldon yelled, and Johnny and Ben pulled it away. Sheldon stood, brushing dirt off his clothes, as Ashley ran up.

“You guys okay?” She probed Sheldon’s side and leg.

“Yeah, yeah — ow!” Sheldon flinched as she pressed on his hip.

“Probably just bruising. You need to walk around a little so it doesn’t get stiff.”

“I know.” Sheldon limped back toward the equipment shed, then stopped. “You owe me a dollar, Ben,” he said.

“That was a dam-fool stunt you just pulled,” Johnny grinned. “But hey, it worked. You might be cut out to be a cowboy. If you’re up to it, go look in the shed and see if they have any sweet feed. It’ll have a picture of a calf on the bag.”

They ended up catching over twenty chickens, but after the calf even Lily’s dive to catch a loose chicken was anti-climatic. Johnny found a bridle and a feed bag in the equipment shed and gave the calf something to eat after hobbling it much like Cleve and Tim had hobbled Joseph so long ago. With a bag of sweet feed in its face, the calf decided to allow Johnny to lead it home the next morning. At a walking pace, they left at dawn and were not home until dusk.


Monday, March 07, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 77

Ironic — the photo in this post was taken March 2, 2011 — exactly one year before the date of this episode…


Friday, March 2, 2012

After the first week of pipeline construction, things started smoothing out. Packs of wild dogs were still a problem outside the fence, but there were plenty of weapons at each work site and the dogs started to keep their distance. With the spring head mostly complete, the hardest part was done and now Cody had rotated off the work crews for a day. Lunch was over, and he was free for the afternoon. It felt weird, nobody needing his help or even an opinion for a change, and he wasn’t in the mood to play video games (or chit-chat with fellow kibitzers while waiting his turn), so he wandered through Laurel for lack of a better idea. A line from something he couldn’t remember — doing nothing in particular, and thinking nothing in particular — ran through his mind, and it suited him. Aloneness weighed on him… funny, now that there were so few people around, he’d forgotten how to enjoy time with only himself.

Splotches of yellow — daffodils — caught his eye. The cheerful flowers were a welcome distraction. They seemed to be all over the place: growing in flowerbeds, along the streets, in yards that hadn’t yet been plowed for gardens, it didn’t seem to matter to them. Cody liked their attitude, and ended up picking a handful without much thinking about it beyond remembering Ben’s foraging admonishment: leave some for next year. As he continued to wander, he found himself walking across the lot behind the townhouses, where Sondra’s grave stood waiting for him. He looked at the cairn, looked down at the flowers, and nodded.

He sat on the end of the cairn. “Hey. I brought you some flowers,” he said, and laid them on the rocks. He heard a gasp, and Caitlin’s head popped up on the other side.

“You — oh,” she said, looking at Cody and the small heap of daffodils. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Cody said. “What…” he waved his hands.

“Sorry. I can go if you want.”

“You don’t have to.”

Caitlin boosted herself onto the other end of the cairn, understanding the rest of Cody’s first question. “I like to come out here sometimes.”

“Yeah. How’s your shoulder? Still sore?”

“Not really. Ashley checks it for infection, and Rita gave me some exercises to do so it won’t get stiff. I wish class hadn’t got canceled, though. Jenn-Mom makes me wear a jacket and a pad underneath when I practice, then she’s always telling me to be careful. Like I’m made of glass or something.”

Cody laughed. “Moms are like that. Sometimes, you need some space from all that. I guess that’s why you come out here.”

“No. It’s just that… Ashley and Lily aren’t mean to me or anything, but sometimes I just feel like I don’t belong with them anymore. I don’t belong anywhere. So I come out here and sit. Sometimes, I’ll talk to Sondra, tell her what’s going on.”

“Yeah, me too. She ever talk back?”

“Sometimes.” Caitlin clapped her hand over her mouth.

“It’s okay. She talks to me sometimes too.”

“I’m not very good at keeping secrets,” Caitlin said. “My mom used to say my mouth runs great but it don’t have no brakes. So I hope you won’t get mad if I say you said that.”

“I don’t care. Sondra liked you, you know.”

Caitlin looked surprised. “She did? I thought… well, you know… that she would have been jealous or something.”

“He — heck, no. She thought it was funny. Or she thought the way I reacted was funny, anyway. I wish my sister was still here. She was about your age, and she woulda liked you too. She’d tell you a bunch of stupid things about me, then you’d just laugh at me.”

Caitlin shook her head. “I wouldn’t laugh. What was her name?”

“Katera, but she liked to be called Teri. I always thought she was a pain in the ass back Before, but now… now I miss her more than anyone.”

“Even Sondra?”

“Almost. Maybe as much, anyway.”

They sat on each end of the cairn for a minute, both lost in their own thoughts. “So why do you think you don’t belong?” Cody asked. “Do they just ignore you or something?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “They’re nice, especially lately… they kind of act like they’re afraid of me sometimes. They tease me a little, but I don’t mind that much. But me and Ashley have a bedroom together, and it’s — I don’t know, it’s like Lily’s her friend more than I am. Jennifer’s nice, so are Tim and Sara, but they’re trying to get ready for the baby. If I wasn’t around — if I wasn’t, I wonder if anyone would notice.” Caitlin looked away, wiping her eyes.

“They’d notice.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, for one thing, there’s not enough people around. If someone was missing, everyone would know pretty quick. But that’s not the only reason… I’m trying to figure out how to say this. There has to be a reason why you — and me, and everyone else are still walking around instead of taking the Forever Road Trip, y’know? We can’t afford to lose anyone else.” He patted the rock. “Me and Sondra… we talked about having our first kid next — this year. She used to say, ‘a kid or four,’ so I guess we’d have been raising a lot of them. When you’re older, you’ll be having your own kids, too.”

“Yeah right. There’d have to be someone who wants to marry me.”

“It’ll happen. I never thought anyone would love me the way Sondra did, but it happened. Maybe it’ll happen again.”

“It did happen… but I’m too little.”

“Hey. Y’know, there’s some guys who wouldn’t care about that. They’d use you, maybe hurt you, and make you think it was your fault. Don’t let that happen to you, okay? ’Cause if it did, I’d have to throw the son of a bitch in a truck.”

Caitlin shook her head. “I won’t. Maybe those kind of people are already all in trucks though.”

“You never know. Hey… you want to talk to me, you can find me. Or maybe talk to Jennifer. She probably understands this shit better than I do. Sondra and me was something that just happened. And I bet if you ask her, she’ll make time for you.”

“Maybe. I guess I should go now. Thanks, Cody.” She slid off the cairn onto the grass.

“Sure. Hey, wait a minute.” Cody picked up a few flowers and offered them to her. “Take these with you, okay?”

Caitlin looked dubious at first, then grinned. “Thanks.”

Cody watched her walk away. In a lower voice, “I wish I knew how to deal with her.”

You did pretty good, actually.

“Yeah right. She still wants to be my girlfriend, and maybe just anyone’s friend. She’s as messed up as I am.”



You’re not so messed up now.

“If that’s true, it’s only because you were there for me.”

Now you can be there for someone else.

“Yeah? Who?”

No answer. Cody sighed and slipped off the cairn. He’d made Caitlin feel better, maybe, and that was something.


Monday, February 28, 2011 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 76

Friday, February 24, 2012

The first part of the pipeline project involved everyone in Laurel: those not building the spring head or laying the pipe itself, or finding and hauling material to the worksites, were preparing meals or barricading roads. School was canceled for the week after Caitlin scraped her shoulder, simply because everyone was in the thick of everything to do with the pipeline. It seemed to Cody that everyone wanted his opinion or help —

What do we do with the pipe itself? “Lay it on the ground now, bury it when we know there’s no leaks.”

There’s only enough four-inch pipe to reach a third of the way back to Laurel! “There’s plenty of smaller roll pipe around. Let’s switch over once we run out and hope we can find more big pipe later.”

How do we deal with all the road crossings? Won’t the trucks crush the pipe? “Cut a deep enough groove in the pavement to lay the pipe, then mortar over it.”

Rita had a busy week too. Caitlin’s shoulder was just the beginning; an easy beginning at that. Everyone looking for supplies or building the spring head all had to deal with wild dogs — having exhausted vast supplies of garbage over the winter, former masters forgotten or resented, with the coming spring the packs were hunting and staking territory. Two people were bitten, and Johnny narrowly escaped being a third. He couldn’t get his carbine around in time, but Tim was facing the right way and shot it — almost hitting Johnny. It was Sheldon who suggested finding Super Soakers and filling them with ammonia, and that worked as well as the guns when the dogs got too close. Getting hit with a stream of ammonia was only an annoyance, compared to a bullet, so people were more willing to use the squirt guns.

But it was the accidents kept Rita busy. Rains made the ground slick, and falls led to several sprains and one broken wrist. Max dislocated his shoulder at the spring head; meditation and a dose of oxycontin allowed Rita and a helper to set it on the spot with only minimal discomfort. They put him on the backboard and rode him back to Laurel on a trailer.

Late winter weather in Georgia can (and does) change every which way, often overnight. With no nightly forecasts on TV, people often worked with one eye on the job and the other on the sky. Working outside in variable weather led to numerous colds, which people tried to ignore despite Rita’s admonitions, and several people had colds worsen nearly to pneumonia.

“I’m worried about Ashley,” Rita told Johnny one night, as she climbed into bed after a long night at the clinic. “She’s a big help, but she’s still just eleven. I’m afraid she’s over her head.”

“Send her home.” Johnny had been dozing a little, but had forced himself awake when Rita came in. “She needs her rest. So do you.”

“I did send her home. Me, I’m used to late nights. Even this hasn’t been as bad as most Saturday nights at Grady. One broken wrist, one dislocated shoulder, two dog bites, and everything else has been minor injuries. Or bad colds. It’s been a busy week, even for the clinic in Chamblee, but we’ll manage. It would be nice to have an MD on call, though, just in case.”

“You’re our doctor, Rita. Everyone trusts you.”

She sighed. “I haven’t been called on to do surgery yet, thank God. I’ve been studying, but…” She shuddered. “I just hope Ashley is ready when the time comes. I hope I am.”

“This is gonna sound stupid, but I’m gonna say it anyway. Why not take up veterinary surgery? We have a few dogs and cats that need to be fixed. I mean, it would suck if something went wrong, but not as much as losing a person. It would give you some practice, too.”

A long silence. “Maybe that would help. I’d have to find some veterinary books, though. Maybe when things settle down.”


“Ashley’s been such a big help. She runs the clinic when I have to go on a call. Even when the other kids are helping, she’s there to make sure they’re doing what needs to be done. I know children bounce back, but they need their sleep too.”

“She’ll be all right.”

“I hope so.”

Rita woke up the next morning feeling queasy. She worked through the morning, and all but forgot about it.


Monday, February 21, 2011 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 75


Monday, February 20, 2012

Miss Sally closed her folder. “This is a good stopping point,” she said, glancing at the figure in the doorway. “Professor Ball is here for science, so I’ll turn things over to him. Don’t forget your homework: pick a story, identify its central conflict, and explain why it’s important.” She stood and motioned for Charles to come in.

The schoolroom was the former workout room. It had tall windows that welcomed the morning sun, and blinds for when it got too bright. The teacher and student desks, pilfered from Ben’s old school, were lined up along the windows so they only needed artificial light on rainy days. Sometimes, Stefan and his boyfriend would come to use the exercise bikes, sweating and puffing as quiet as possible while the kids had class.

“Give me five or ten minutes,” said Charles, as Miss Sally left through the glass door. “I want to organize my thoughts a little, and I’m sure some of you could use a bathroom break.”

Caitlin flipped her notebook shut and stood. “Yeah, I need to pee,” she said in a low voice. Lily giggled, but she and Ashley both got up and followed, flanking her about a half-step behind. The boys brought up the rear, talking between themselves. Caitlin thought about how much things kept changing — just a few weeks ago, it was Ashley up front with Lily and herself following, but now she was in the lead. How — and why — did that happen?

Their bathrooms were the public clubhouse bathrooms, almost directly across the hallway outside — left to the pool, right to the staircase, straight on to the johns, as Sheldon once said. There were no windows, but Caitlin and Ashley turned on their flashlights and hung them on sconces the grownups installed near the mirrors when they put in the composting toilets. This gave the bathroom a dim light, enough to see what needed to be seen.

“Have you guys picked out your story yet?” Lily’s voice reverberated off the tile walls.

“Not really,” said Caitlin. “Right now, I don’t care. I just hope Professor Ball finishes his lesson early. I am so bored!”

“And what’s after science class?” Ashley asked; Lily joined her in a sing-song answer, “Skate class!” They both giggled.

“Yeah, whatever,” Caitlin said, finishing up. “It could be gardening for all I care. I just want to get outside.”

The other girls said nothing, in silent agreement. This was the nicest day they’d had so far this year, after all. No jacket required for once, even inside once the sun had warmed things up. It seemed wrong to be cooped up indoors on a day like this. Just another way things have changed, Caitlin thought — back Before she would have watched TV and snacked, regardless of weather. And skating? skateboarding? Never in a zillion years. True, she had worked hard at it to begin with, just to get Cody’s attention and approval, but now she worked at it because she was good and wanted to get better. Let them think what they wanted.

Cody had a surprise waiting for the kids: a low ramp, made from a sheet of plywood and some scrap lumber. The high side stood maybe two feet off the pavement. It had a brief platform, about a foot wide between the slope and empty air.

“I’m not quite up to building a quarterpipe,” Cody explained. “This’ll do, until we can get over to the skate park. Anyway, a ramp’s a little easier to start out with, and it’ll give you an idea of what to expect.

“We’re gonna start by rolling off with our skateboards. When you’re comfortable with that, we’ll practice doing some turnarounds. That should get us through today, and we’ll try a couple other things with our skates later.” He laid his stick on the narrow flat area on top, letting the front wheels rest on the slope. The rear wheels hung in a little gap between two of the boards. “Just put your back wheels here in this gap, it’ll keep your stick from rolling before you’re ready.” He stepped up and placed a foot over the back wheels. “Look forward, lean forward. When you get to the bottom, put some weight on your back wheels so the front don’t try to plow into the asphalt. Okay? You got your armor on, and you won’t go fast enough to worry about it anyway. Give it a little nudge and you’re off, just like this: ready-fire-aim.”

Cody rolled down the ramp, hit the pavement, made a wide turn in the empty street. He gave a kick and rolled back to rejoin his class. “Just like that. When you come off the ramp, straighten up and you’ll be fine. Who’s first?”

To his surprise, Ashley and both boys joined Caitlin in volunteering, and Caitlin looked nearly as surprised as he felt. “Huh. Well, I guess we’ll go in alphabetical order: Ashley, Ben, Caitlin, Sheldon. Lily, you stand at the bottom and watch what they do. If they don’t wipe out, just do what they do when it’s your turn.” She nodded and moved to stand where Cody pointed.

Ashley shifted on her board and it started rolling. She wobbled a moment, but stayed upright and rode it out. She rolled off the ramp, then took a wide turn like Cody’s but picked up her board and walked back when she’d slowed enough. Ben got fixated on the bottom of the ramp and fell. His pads kept him from getting hurt, and Cody gave him the “eyes up next time” sign. Caitlin rolled down like she’d done it all her life, then stopped with a showy braking maneuver Cody had shown her outside of class. She kicked her board up, caught it, and carried it back, looking a little smug. Sheldon rolled down and away without trouble. He still had trouble slowing and turning, so he rolled until he could stop, then turned around and kicked his way back.

Lily looked a little nervous. “You see that mailbox way down there?” Cody asked her. She nodded. “Good. Keep your eyes on it until you’re off the ramp. You saw Ben wipe out, right? He was looking at the pavement, and you go where you look. So don’t look down. Just do what you do on a driveway.” She nodded again, mounted the ramp, rolled away.

She stayed upright and yelled “I did it! I did it!” as she continued to roll away. Like Sheldon, she had difficulty braking and turning. She rolled to a stop and walked her board back with a big grin.

“Not bad, guys!” Cody grinned. “Ben, you wanna try again? Just watch the mailbox like Lily did, okay?” He nodded, mounted the ramp, rolled down and this time stayed on the board. He made his turn and came back.

“Cool. You know how I made you guys practice that one-eighty? Now you’ll do something useful with it. Lemme show you.” He rolled up the street a ways, stopped, turned around. “Now I’m gonna come up the ramp. When I stop, or almost stop, I’ll kick around and come back down.” A few strong kicks sent him up the street; he rolled about halfway up the ramp, turned and descended. “You’ll want to know how to do this when you’re on a halfpipe.”

“We’re not as fast as you, Cody,” said Caitlin. “How are we gonna get up enough speed to do anything?”

Caitlin was up to something, but Cody had no idea what. She had a good point, though. “I could pull you on my bike, I guess. You wanna go first?”


Cody picked up his mountain bike from the grass and rode up the street, Caitlin following on her board. “Okay, just hang on to the rack, then let go when I tell you, got it?” Caitlin nodded and Cody got them going.

“Now!” Caitlin gave a grunt and a hard pull on the rack before letting go, hitting the ramp faster than Cody intended. As she reached the top, she ollie’d and sailed over the narrow platform, drawing shrieks from the other girls. She landed off-balance and fell, hitting the pavement on her side, her skateboard tumbling up and over the curb.

Cody left his bike on the street and ran to her, cursing. “You okay?”

“I think so,” she said, clambering to her feet. “Ow.” She felt her left shoulder. “I think I scraped it up.”

“Road rash!” Cody said.

“Abrasion,” said Ashley. “We need to clean it and get you to Rita.”

“Just clean it,” Caitlin snapped. “I wanna try again.”

“I don’t want you trying to ollie off the ramp again, okay?” Cody looked serious. “You scared the shit out of me. Just up and down this time. Promise?”

“Fine.” Caitlin hissed as Ashley reached under her sleeve, the wet-wipe stinging her scraped skin. “This is how you learn though, right?”

“Yeah, but maybe on colder days when you can wear a jacket. Then you won’t get scraped up so much.”


Monday, February 14, 2011 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 74


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kelly insisted on helping with what Tina called “procurement.” “This is going to be a big hassle,” she said, “and if it turns out to be a waste of time, it should be my time wasted too.” And so, on a chilly day that promised rain or snow later, she rode with Tim, Cody, and Johnny to a nearby Green’s Home Center. All of them pulled trailers.

Skirting the truck parked near the main entrance, Johnny led them to the contractors’ entrance. “The stuff we want is closer to this door,” he explained. “We can open the overhead door and ride in, too. No sense in lugging it out if we can just ride it out.”

“Yeah,” said Kelly. “Sooner we’re outta here, the better. These stores creep me out.”

“Hey, all the ghosts are in trucks now,” Cody laughed. “Maybe… ooooOOOOOoooo!” He waggled his fingers on either side of his head.

Kelly snorted and they walked their bikes to the entrance. Johnny and Tim forced the sliding glass doors open, and they wheeled the bikes inside. Birds fussed at the intrusion, flapping between the rafters.

Cody sniffed. “Smells funky in here. Like something died.”

“Didn’t this chain have a fast food counter in each store?” Johnny asked.

“Most of them, but I don’t think this one —” Tim stopped short as a scuffing noise echoed around the shelves. “What was that?” He put a hand on his revolver.

“Possums. Groundhogs. Who knows?” Johnny shrugged. “Let’s get the door open.”

The overhead door rattled and banged on its way up; dust and pieces of a bird’s nest rained down. As the echoes died away, they heard more skittering noises under the chattering birds. The open door let in more daylight; it lacked enthusiasm but did help the grimy skylights a little. Moving away, they turned on flashlights.

“What’s that?” asked Kelly, pointing her beam at something on the floor as Johnny and Tim walked by it.

“Cody squatted down for a look, nudging it with his shoe. “Looks like dog crap,” he said. “Not that old —” he jumped up, drawing his revolver. “Guys! Weapons out!”

A low growling sound, then they heard Tim and Johnny yell. Seconds later, barking, shouts, and Johnny’s carbine filled the store with noise. Birds roosting in the rafters above flew back and forth, cursing and looking for a way out.

“Shit shit shit,” Cody chanted, taking two steps toward the others then stopping. “Kelly! Do you have a gun?” She shook her head, wide-eyed, rooted to the floor. Cody cursed again, darting his light around the shelves. “There!” He pointed at a rack of pipes as they heard more gunfire. “I’ll boost you up on that shelf. Watch down there so we don’t get blindsided!”

They rushed to the shelf. Cody looked down the aisle, then laid the revolver at his feet and linked his hands. Kelly stepped in, jumped up on the shelf, then Cody grabbed up Sondra’s gun and ran to join the others.

“Dogs,” said Johnny, back to back with Tim, “or maybe coyotes. Not good either way.”

“You hit the ones you shot at?”

“Not sure. They ran like hell. Hey! Where’s Kelly?”

“Two aisles down, up in the shelves. I boosted her up. She should be safe up there.”

“Let’s hope,” said Tim. “Okay — with three of us, we can cover all the angles — one look forward, one look back, one down the aisles.”

“Yeah,” said Johnny, “but I need both hands free. Hang on.” He stepped over to the nearest checkout counter, gave a satisfied grunt, and returned with a roll of duct tape. He tore off a strip and bound his flashlight under the barrel, then nodded.

At the next aisle down, a big dog charged headlong, barking. Johnny fired and it fell tumbling and sliding across the concrete floor, stopping a few feet from them. He dropped another in the next aisle, but its fellow dodged behind some merchandise.

“We’ll have to get —” Johnny began —

A scream cut him off. “Cody! Help!”

“Shit! You guys get that one, I’m going back!” He ran back before either could protest, nearly overshooting Kelly’s aisle and skidding to a stop. He played his flashlight down the aisle. “Kelly!”

“Cody! They’re up here!” Cody shone his light along the shelf, and saw two dogs — one black, one white — about fifteen feet from Kelly. She had a short length of plastic pipe, whipping it back and forth to keep them back. They started barking at Cody’s light, making him wince at the racket.

Kelly dropped the pipe and grabbed a large coupling. She thrust it two-handed at the black dog, bouncing it off its snout.

“Good one, Kelly!” he yelled.

“Just a basketball pass!” Kelly grinned in spite of the situation and took up her pipe again. Both dogs stopped barking; the black dog snorted and jumped down to face Cody.

Cody reacted, pumping four quick shots into the black dog without thinking. “No!” he yelled, raising the pistol. Sondra taught me better! “Not this time,” he growled, as the dog twitched its last. The white dog closed the gap with Kelly, snarling just outside the reach of her pipe. “Hang on, Kelly! I got it!” One shot, one kill, Sondra had told him once, that’s what Dad taught me. He nodded to himself, aimed, fired. The white dog jumped as Cody shot — Kelly screamed, but it fell squirming and twitching, just short of her knees. She clubbed it several times with her pipe, then scrambled back.

Shots and shouts rang out farther down as Kelly slid to the edge and jumped down. She wrapped herself around Cody, shaking, her head buried in his shoulder.

“Let’s get down there with the others,” said Cody. “Quick! I gotta reload!”

Kelly squeezed once before letting Cody go. “Five shots — you got one left, right?”

“No. I had the hammer on an empty chamber. Let’s move!” They hustled down to Johnny and Tim.

“We got that one in the shelves,” said Tim, as Cody reloaded.

“Two came after Kelly. That’s five.”

“You need to learn to shoot, Kelly,” Tim told her, “if you want to keep coming on these trips.”

“Yeah. Is that all of them?”

“I don’t know. Do we want to clear this place out, or just get our stuff and go?”

“Clear it,” said Cody, looking grim. “We’ll have to come back for the rest of the blocks, and the pipe and other stuff sooner or later. I don’t wanna go through this again.”

There were four more dogs; they shot two and the survivors bolted through an open gate in the garden section. Tim latched the gate and they boarded the broken glass door going into the main building. Only then did they feel safe wheeling the bikes into the aisles and loading concrete blocks and bags of cement onto the trailers. Johnny added buckets, trowels, two wheelbarrows, and several long broom handles to the load.

“You think we’ll have any extra?” Kelly asked as they pushed their bikes to the door.

“Maybe — after we get two more loads like this one!” Johnny laughed.

“I almost got eaten by a dog, and we gotta do this two more times? I knew this was a crazy idea.”

As Johnny pulled down the overhead door, Kelly hugged Cody again. “Thanks.”


“No, really. You did good in there.”

“You did good too. You kept ’em off you until I could get back.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t panic.” She kissed his cheek. “Sondra would be proud.” He gave her a curious look as she jumped on her bike and got her load rolling.


Monday, February 07, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 73


A subdued Cody and Kelly entered the Laurel Room, not noticing the curious stares from her parents and Johnny, and took their seats again. Their eyes were puffy, and Cody’s grim look was gone. Charles and Tina looked at each other, then turned to watch them.

“Okay,” said Kelly, “scratch the aqueduct. We still —”

“Nuh-uh.” Cody shook his head.


“Don’t scratch the aqueduct. Yet. Maybe it’s a bad idea. But it might be a good one. Or the start of one.”

At the other table, Tina and Charles looked at each other. “Do you think they —” Tina twirled a finger at the teenagers.

Charles shook his head. “They’ve obviously worked something out. But I’d bet a stack of firewood that it didn’t involve sex.”

“Firewood?” Johnny grinned. “Is that gonna be our currency now? I’m gonna need a bigger wallet!”

“How do you figure?” asked Kelly.

“Well, maybe not an aqueduct. That’s like what the Romans had, right?” She nodded. “Yeah. They had lots of slaves to build that kind of shit, but they didn’t have big-box stores full of pipe and other construction junk waiting to be plundered.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Cody looked at Kelly, and saw the spark in his eyes, saw the manic grin. “Instead of an aqueduct, make it a pipeline!”

“I don’t know. I still think it’s a dumb idea.”

“Maybe not. We have to find a spring that’s higher up than here, and it has to be close enough where we can find enough pipe to get the water back here. If all that works out, it’s a good idea. If not… nice try, we’ll come up with something else.” Cody stood. “Hey,” he said to Tina, Charles, and Johnny, “I think we’ve got something here. Or Kelly does.”

“Yeah right,” Kelly mock-griped. “Blame it on me when it turns out to be a dumb idea.”

After supper, they reconvened in the Laurel Room. Kelly looked at the whiteboard, full of what her mom labeled Action Items. “Are we gonna be able to get all this stuff done?”

“Sure,” Charles said. “It might take longer than we like, it might be more effort than we expect, but we’ll do it. We have to.”

“If we can find a spring in the right place,” said Cody, poring over the topographical maps he and Tim found at the library. “And it looks like there could be one a little north of here.”

“How far?” asked Tina.

Cody used his fingers as a compass. “Maybe two miles straight there. We’ll have to go around some crap though.” He fiddled some more. “Call it three, maybe three and a half miles of pipe.”

“Three miles!” Kelly shook her head. “Let’s think of something else. There’s no way we’ll find enough pipe!”

“Actually, that ain’t too bad,” said Johnny, peering over Cody’s shoulder. “If we can put up with a small pipe, that stuff comes in five hundred foot rolls. Thirty, thirty-five rolls — we might find that much at one supply house if we’re lucky.”

“Will a small pipe carry enough water for fifty people?” asked Cody.

“I think so. The way I figure, we take all the rain barrels and set ’em up on that little rise behind the clubhouse. We only use the water through the day, and the rain barrels are more than enough for that, so we let ’em refill overnight.”

“We’ll use it,” said Charles. “We’ve all been pretty good about staying within our limits, but if we have more we’ll use more.”

“Okay,” said Kelly, “so let’s pretend the spring is where the map says it is, and it’s big enough to supply enough water. What’s next?”

“Build a catch basin and cover it,” Johnny answered.


“Why which? We need the basin so dirt can settle out before it gets into the pipe, and to even out the flow. We need to cover it so debris and critters mostly won’t get in and clog things up.” Johnny used the last remaining bare spot on the whiteboard to sketch a diagram.


“Yeah. Bugs might get in, but they should float right back out the overflow pipe unless the flow drops off. We’ll still have to filter down at this end, but not as much as we would otherwise.”

“Okay… but I still don’t see how we’re gonna carry three miles of pipe.”

“A little at a time.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Following the map, they found the spring branch and followed it back to the source. “This is Valentine’s Day,” said Max. “Let’s call it Valentine Spring.”

“Is that enough water?” asked Kelly, watching the water burble out of the hillside. Tim, Johnny, Cody, and Max were also there to check out their potential new water source.

“Should be,” said Johnny. “Looks like at least two or three gallons a minute. Not huge, but that would fill one rain barrel in forty minutes. If we don’t get more barrels, it would fill them all overnight twice, maybe three times over.”

“I guess we can start digging then,” said Tim.

“Let’s wait until we get the blocks and mortar here,” said Johnny. “If we get a heavy rain first, it’ll wash our work away.”

“Swingin’ the axe all winter got us in shape to dig, I guess,” Cody shrugged. “How many blocks will we need?”

“A few hundred. We’ll need three or four trips at least to bring ’em all in.”

Kelly looked dubious. “That’s a lot of work for something we don’t even know is going to pan out.”

Max grinned. “Like we got anything better to do?”

Johnny unscrewed the cap from an empty water bottle, cleared some debris from around the spring, and dipped it in the flow. “Looks pretty clear,” he said, watching the water swirl in the bottle. “I might have picked up a little sediment, but once we get the catch basin built, that shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll have to clear the silt out every few years, but that’s no big deal.” He took a sip. “Pretty good!” He passed it around.


Monday, January 31, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 72


Everyone dispersed to their afternoon pursuits, leaving Charles, Tina, and Johnny at one table to discuss livestock, Cody and Kelly at another.

“I don’t understand why we can’t get water out of that creek up the road,” said Kelly, doodling on a notepad while Cody alternated looking at his hands and out the big window.

“Too much shit dumped in it for too many years,” said Cody, not looking at her. “It might be okay, but we don’t have any way to test it. Besides lettin’ someone drink it for a few months and see if they get sick. You wanna try?”

“Okay, okay.” Kelly wrote the word CREEK on the notepad then scratched through it. “You got any ideas?”

Cody just sighed.

“Fine. Maybe we could dig a well?”

“Depends. We might have to go a few hundred feet down. Diggin’ that by hand would suck. And we’d hit rock instead of water, probably.”

“Whatever. So you’re saying any water we can reach is no good, and we can’t get to the good water?”

Cody’s voice got even flatter as he looked at the table, wrapping his hands around his neck. “A spring would probably be okay. If it’s not next to some toxic factory shit.”

“Okay, hope springs eternal.” Kelly laughed and tore the top page off the notepad, wrote SPRING on a fresh page. “So we need to find a spring. Preferably by spring.” She smirked and looked at Cody.

Cody finally looked at her, and Kelly wished he hadn’t. If looks could kill… “Cut the cute. Let’s just get this over with.”

“Look — I don’t really like this either, but I’m trying to make the best of it. It would help if you came up with some ideas instead of just sitting there and shooting down mine!”

“Yeah, I’m thinking! Fine, you got a spring. How do we get the water back here?”

“I don’t… hey! I know. We could build an aqueduct!”

“Why the hell would you think that’s a good idea?” Cody yelled across the table, standing and kicking his chair back.

“Let’s see you come up with anything better!” Kelly yelled, standing in her turn.

“Hey!” Charles called across from the table he shared with Tina and Johnny. “Keep it to a dull roar, okay?”

“Whose idea was it to put you two on this water project anyway?” Tina barked.

“Yours!” Kelly snapped, turning to glare at her parents. Cody crossed his arms and alternated glaring at Kelly and Tina.

“Jesus,” Tina said, shaking her head, “why don’t you two just get a damn room or something?”

Cody turned his glare back to Kelly, arms folded across his thin chest. “Yeah right,” he said. “Your place or mine?”

“Mine,” Kelly said, returning the glare. “The memories are probably too thick at your place.” She turned and left, not looking back; Cody threw his hands up and followed.

“Hey!” Tina called, they ignored her. “I didn’t mean for you to actually —” she stood; Charles put a hand on her arm. Johnny sat watching goggle-eyed.

“Let them go,” said Charles. “They have to work this out themselves.”

“But —”

“Look. You know as well as I do, Cody is going to be leading this community when it’s time for us to have a leader. I don’t know if they’ll call him king, mayor, or what, but he’s been the one who makes things happen. Don’t you want our daughter to be the queen, or whatever? Besides, they’re not… I think there’s too much animosity for them to be horny teenagers right now. They need to work out their differences first.”

“On your head be it, then. Ever heard of angry sex?”

“I’ll take that responsibility.”

Kelly banged the door open and stormed into #202. Shady hopped down from a sunny window sill to greet her, took a reading of his owner’s current mood, and decided that hiding behind the sofa with Cheddar was the smart move. Cody was about three steps behind her; he slammed the door shut and followed her back to her bedroom.

Cody stood in the doorway as Kelly pulled off her jacket and threw it across the room. “You coming in or what?” she snarled.

“I don’t know. I might just stand right here for a minute, until I figure out what the hell you’re up to. This time.”

Kelly unzipped her fleece; it shortly joined the jacket in the corner. “What I’m up to? What does that mean?”

Cody face grew even more angry — a small part of Kelly thought that was some feat — and began yelling. “What does that mean? Shit! You’ve been doing nothing but pushing my damn buttons for God knows how long! What the fuck did I ever do to you?”

“It’s the only way I can ever get you to react, you asshole!” Kelly yelled back, wrapping her arms around herself. “You dug yourself a nice hole and pulled the dirt in over you! You might as well be dead, for all anyone can talk to you!”

“Why not? The only good thing I ever had — in my entire! fucking! life! was taken away from me by some asshole who wanted us all dead!” Cody pounded the doorframe for punctuation.

“And that’s what it always comes back to — poor little you! You act like you’re the only one in this entire subdivision who ever lost anyone! Well I got news for you — remember Tim losing his friend? He got over it! I had some great friends at school, not to mention a bunch of relatives — they’re all off driving now, and I got over it! Every single person here has lost people they cared about — people they loved — and you don’t see them doing the walking dead act!”

Cody crossed his arms. “Fuck you. You couldn’t even begin to understand… I’m surprised you didn’t drive off like your preppy friends.”

“I almost did.” Kelly shivered at the memory. “Must be nice, being so self-sufficient, not caring what other people think. Not needing anyone.”

“Yeah, well I found out I did need someone. And now… oh, fuck this shit.” He turned and walked out, picking up the pace as he got out of sight.

Cody ran down the hallway and dodged onto the stairs. He jogged downstairs, looked across the pool to the clubhouse, and shrugged. He turned and walked through the breezeway, out back. A low cairn stood waiting, like that damned truck outside the gate, but this he approached willingly — and if Kelly had looked out her window, she could have watched him.

He sat on the cairn and turned to read the inscription he’d placed just a couple weeks ago, brass letters laid into a pool of wet mortar:

B AUG 9 1993
D JAN 11 2012

He ran his fingers over the letters, then turned away and propped his arms on his knees and head on his hands. “Empty. All empty,” he muttered. “Nothing left.” Looking down, he saw something light against the rocks and dirt. He picked it up — their wedding picture, the one he’d laminated and slipped in between two of the stones. The winter winds must have dislodged it.

“Great.” He started to push the picture back into the rocks, but ended up just looking at her image. “Oh God, Sondra… what I would give to see you for real…” the tears began, as they had so often in the last month.

Cody. Stop.

“I want to,” he sobbed. “But every morning, I wake up and I have to go through another day. Without you.”

Remember… throw away the leftovers.

“What? What does that mean? You’re not the leftovers!” Cody’s right arm tingled for a moment. “I can’t just — I love you —”

I love you too. But don’t —

“Don’t what? You never told me!”

Don’t push the world away. Don’t push away people who need you. Who want to love you.

He turned a defiant face to heaven. “Fuck the world! What did it ever give me that —”


“That’s just it! It gave you to me, then it took you away!”

Don’t push the world away. For my sake.

Cody shook his right arm, not noticing. “I love you, Sondra. I wish you could have been the one… damn.”

Live. Do it for me.

Cody shook his head, stood and looked around. “I thought you didn’t like her.”

Go. And all was quiet again except for don’t push the world away still echoing in his head.

“Is that what I’ve been doing?” He ran a loving finger across Sondra’s photographed face one last time, and tucked the picture back into the rocks. “God, I miss you. But if we’re gonna make it here, I guess I got to work with… people. I won’t forget, though.”

Kelly had her fleece and jacket back on, and was about to walk back to the Laurel Room, when she heard the knock.

“Cody,” she said, opening the door. “You coming in this time?”

“Yeah.” He stepped in, looking down. “Look, Kelly, I’m —”

“Cody, wait.” Kelly raised a hand. “I need to say something. I made a mistake, back at the beginning. I just didn’t… I wasn’t thinking. You… I… I couldn’t get my head around the idea that everything had changed. I thought you and I would — I had to get used to the idea. Then Sondra came, and it was like I’d thrown my chance away. Oh God, Cody, you…” her voice caught, “Oh God, you’re gonna hate me even more now, but sometimes I wished she would die — or had never come — because she took you away. And now… oh God, I feel so bad sometimes, I feel like it’s my fault she got killed — I’m so sorry —” she shuddered then broke into long sobs, right there in front of Cody and not caring anymore.

Cody stood for a moment, uncertain, then reached over and patted her shoulder. She leaned into his chest, still sobbing. “Hey,” he said over her head. “It wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry too… I didn’t believe it, but Sondra thought you… ah, crap.” He held her and let her cry, and found he still had a few tears of his own.

Shady slipped out of his hiding place and approached the two carefully, then stretched up Cody’s leg. “Hey cat,” he said, and Shady climbed his leg. He plucked the cat off his pants and set him on his shoulder. “Yeah… I guess the war’s over.” Shady purred.


Monday, January 24, 2011 6 comments

White Pickups, Episode 71

Sunday, February 12, 2012

“Frankly, I’m a little worried about Cody,” said Tina, standing in Rita’s clinic with Charles, Tim, Sara, Rita, Johnny, and Rev. Patterson. Tim brought his thermos, filled with coffee leftover from breakfast, and several of them held warm mugs.

“There’s something wrong?” Rita asked. “Are you saying we need to restart the suicide watch?”

“No, I don’t think that’s the problem anymore. But I am worried about his mental state. You’ve heard him say the trucks eat the souls of those who get in, right? The Delphinia woman put that idea in his head. She happened to be out at the gate when he went sleepwalking the other night. Good thing, or he might have driven off.”

“Assuming the presence of a soul in the first place,” said Charles, “its absence — or loss — would explain quite a few things about the trucks. For example, the behavior of the drivers. They constantly and consistently obey the rules of the road. If the soul drives the will, removing the soul would remove the will to disobey as well.”

“Not to mention ever stopping or getting out,” Johnny added. “Maybe they’re taking orders from the trucks. We can hear ’em talking to us — why wouldn’t they talk to the drivers? or passengers? Maybe the drive-offs aren’t really doing the driving.”

“Let’s stay focused,” said Tina. “This is about Cody. And Delphinia. That’s why I asked you to join us, Reverend. Can you tell us what you know about Delphinia?”

Patterson rubbed his bald head a moment. “Not that much, really,” he said. “She showed up — I think it was the first day that people started noticing the trucks. She walked into the shelter, mumbling to herself as some homeless folk do. I asked her if she needed a place to stay, and she gave me that smile of hers and said she did.”

“Where was your shelter?” Rita asked.

“The Little Five Points area. I had a storefront church there twenty, thirty years ago. We struggled, as churches that serve the poor often do, but God provided. Then one of our members died and left a large sum of money ‘to continue the ministry.’ The church itself died out, but I used that endowment to keep the shelter open.”

“So she came in, you offered her a place to stay,” said Tina. “Then what?”

“Things happened quickly after that. It may have been Delphinia who first used the term ‘Eater of Souls,’ but the others picked — took it up right away. It was also things Delphinia said in November that got us on the move, and brought us here.”

“All right. Thank you, Reverend. I’m guessing Delphinia is a blind alley here, we can talk about her later if we need to. So let’s go back to Cody,” said Tina. “Charles, you said the soul drives the will — and it’s that word, will, that worries me. Cody seems to have lost the will to be a leader. He helps with anything he’s asked to do, but where’s the idea generator? Where’s the spark?”

“Yeah,” Johnny said. “That pretty much nails it. He hasn’t been the same. I don’t know — I never really thought much about getting married until I met Rita here — but if I lost Rita, I guess I’d be devastated too.” Rita gave Johnny a smile and stroked his back for a moment. “Tina, he lost his wife. It’s only been a month, as of yesterday. Give him time to finish grieving, for gosh-sake.”

“As much as I’d like to, we can’t afford to give him much more downtime.” Tina looked grim. “He’s just too important to the survival of us all. You know we have some serious issues —”

“But if we don’t let him heal, he’ll be broken for good — and what good is that going to do him or any of us?” Johnny gave Tina an exasperated look, waving his hands. “Besides — I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t checked — but we’re doing fine with everything but water, now.”

“Really?” Tina looked surprised.

“Yeah. So he has time to heal. Let’s give it to him.”

“Hey,” said Tim, “Remember when the girls had that blow-up? Afterwards, Cody said he needed some kind of project to get his mind off things. Maybe he’s right. Give him something useful to do — on the job healing or something. Let him handle the water situation.”

“Makes sense,” Sara laughed. “Now we just have to set him up.”

“Our basic needs: food, water, fuel, and shelter,” Johnny said, standing with Charles and Tina at the whiteboard in the Laurel Room. The rest of the community looked on. The marker squeaked as he wrote the same four words on the whiteboard. “Working in order from least to most urgent, we have more shelter than we know what to do with —” he put a check mark over the word Shelter while everyone laughed — “and if we don’t mind hauling it a few miles, the ice storm has pretty much solved our fuel situation for the rest of the winter. Until next winter, the solar panels and methane digesters will do, right?” He checked off Fuel.

“As for food… I’ll admit, we’re doing better there than I thought we would. We should thank Jason and Ben for that.”

“And the deer hunter!” Max yelled over the scattered applause, bringing more laughs.

“Okay, yeah, this has been my personal best hunting season by far. Good thing Cleve there ain’t a game warden, I’d never get out of jail!” Johnny checked off Food while waiting for the laughter to fade. “But there wasn’t exactly a lot of competition out there, and this used to be a hunter no-go zone. We might not be so lucky next year.

“So we got two major issues we need to tackle. One, get out to the country and see if we can’t round us up some livestock. Buncha chickens, some cows, a horse or two if any’ll let us catch it, maybe even some goats just to keep the kudzu under control.

“Two, we gotta figure out how to get a source of clean water, enough for a growing community.”

“The rain barrels have been good enough,” Ashley said. “Do we need more?”

“It gets pretty dry in the summer. Remember that dry spell last month, just before the ice storm? We almost used up all the water we had then.”

“Wow.” Ashley looked surprised, as did some of the adults.

“Yeah. So we’ll do fine for a while longer. Spring is usually rainy. But we need to have something more reliable.”

“So those are the issues,” said Charles. “I’d like to put Johnny in charge of acquiring farm animals — he has some experience there. Anyone object?”

Nobody spoke up, and Charles continued. “As for the water project, Cody has nearly always had good — even excellent — ideas about our basic survival needs. I’d like to put him in charge of figuring out how to deal with the water issue.”

Cody rolled his eyes at the scattered applause. “I guess. But I’ll need help.”

“This is too important. You should have anything you need to get the job done,” said Tina. “I’d like to start by asking Kelly to help you.”

Cody glared at Kelly; both of them looked at Tina. “I hope that’s alright,” she continued.

Cody looked like he wanted to object, but only shrugged. “Whatever.”

“Good. I guess that’s all for the community-wide portion of this meeting,” said Tina. “Expect to be shanghaied for one project or the other.” People chuckled as they headed for the exits.

to be continued…

Monday, January 17, 2011 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 70


Friday, February 10, 2012


The single word reverberated around him. Cody turned: there stood Delphinia in the pre-dawn shadows, in front of the boarded-up guardhouse. Her hood hid her face, her cloak making her little more than another grey shadow among the shadows. Beyond him was a truck, waiting in nearly the same spot where the old one sat before they pulled it up to the street. This new truck had been whispering all along — End your mourning. Find eternal peace. — but Cody now noticed it and tried to tune it out. It was harder than usual, and it pulled at him.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked her.

“I go where I am needed. But what of you? Why are you here?”

Cody heard the welcome smile in her voice, could imagine it on her face, but shrugged it and the question away. “I dunno.”

“Were you thinking of giving in?” She inclined her head toward the truck.

We give an end to sorrow.

“Hell no!” But what am I doing out here? He’d been gnawing at the riddle of the trucks while trying to sleep; it was better than thinking about Sondra. But he’d dreamed of her anyway… and now he was out here. And so was a truck. Pulling at him.

“This one is yours.”

“Huh?” Cody looked over his shoulder at the truck. Nothing different about it, except the pull. They all looked the same.

“You summoned it.” The overtones in her voice hinted at a gathering power.


We are ready to hear your call.

Delphinia slipped back her hood and stepped forward, leaving the ball cap in place — but still Cody stood transfixed in the deep blue of her eyes, even in the near-dark, as she approached. “Thus says the Oracle: Endure, Cody. For the sake of the future. This is also Sondra’s desire.”

Cody tore his gaze away from her eyes and glared, crossing his arms. “Is her desire? She’s dead!” His vision swam for a moment.

“Only the body perishes.” The fencing and trees whispered an echo. “The soul lives on, but can be devoured. By hate. By despair. By unrelenting grief. And…” She turned her gaze to the truck.

“They really eat your soul?” Cody gasped —

And sat up in his nest in front of the fireplace. He shook his head, but Delphinia’s words still echoed in his skull. Habit made him check his fire: coals glowed behind the glass doors. He wrapped his robe around himself, opened the doors enough to throw two more pieces of wood in and enjoy a wave of warmth, then closed the doors and tottered to the bathroom.

Dim light filtering through the living room blinds suggested early morning, and Cody took a peek outside. Nobody moving around out there, but the early risers would be getting dressed — maybe someone was already making coffee in the Laurel Room? He felt like he could use a cup or two; last night wasn’t restful. First there was a dream about Sondra, then the one with the weird bag lady there in front of the guardhouse… that one felt almost real. What had she said? Something about enduring. And the trucks eat your soul?

“That’s some nasty shit,” he said aloud. “Gotta get some guys to push that thing back out on the street — oh yeah.” That was just a dream. Wasn’t it? Dreams and reality had a bad habit of mixing together these days. “Coffee,” he said. “Get my head on straight, then I can go have a look.” He picked up his shoes —

They were wet and cold.

“What the…?” He sat on the hearth, letting the fire warm his back, and thought. He woke up from the dream about Sondra, threw some wood on the fire, laid back down… hadn’t he? The wet shoes seemed to stare back at him, and he propped them against the fireplace glass. Could he have sleepwalked out to the gate? He didn’t remember going out there… or coming back, either. Then again, Delphinia had a way of pulling everyone around her into her crazy world. What did the preacher say about her that day? She has a gift, and I fear it has driven her mad. But she sure didn’t act crazy out there.

A few minutes later, Cody left the Laurel Room, hands wrapped around a warm coffee mug, black hoodie snugged up against the cold and damp of early morning. It was a short walk to the gate, even with the customary pause to look at the spot where Sondra died. He trailed a hand along the side of the guardhouse, looked up for a moment, then slipped through the gate and looked at the pickup. He could feel the pull from yards away, the strongest ever.

This one is yours. You summoned it.

There it was, exactly where he’d seen it, dream or not. He glared at it, sipped his coffee, turned to look at the ground in front of the guardhouse. The depressions could have been footprints, but Cody was no tracker.

Life is too short for endless speculation. There is a better way.

Drive. Consider your questions for eternity.

“Like hell. You can fuckin’ starve to death for all I care.” He gave the truck a middle finger and pushed himself back into the subdivision, swimming against the tide, making a mental to-do list: Get some guys together. Find the hooks they used back around Hallowe’en to roll the old one out, then get this one off the place. Spread the word.

And keep an eye on Delphinia. She was more than she seemed. And she knew more than she was letting on.

to be continued…

Monday, January 10, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 69


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

You leave him alone!” Caitlin’s shout rang across the Laurel Room. Everyone turned to see the little redhead pushing up against Kelly, fists balled up at her chin, her face as red as her hair. “Why are you so mean all the time?” Behind her, Cody sat hunched over himself. He put his palms to his temples and sighed.

“Caitlin!” Jennifer rushed to the scene, Tim and Sara right behind. “What’s going on!”

“You just stop!” Caitlin hissed at Kelly. “I— I—” Tears finally broke through as Jennifer pulled her away.

“Okay, okay,” said Kelly, not sure if anyone heard, and stalked away.

“What was that about, Caitlin?” Jennifer asked through Caitlin’s sobs.

“It’s my fault.” Cody sighed again and turned to face them. Tim watched all three of them as best he could, while Sara reached and caressed Cody’s shoulder.

“What?” Jennifer gave Cody a dubious look.

“Kelly. She’s always runnin’ her yap at me. I just try to ignore it. Damn if I’m gonna give her any reaction. I guess Caitlin thought I needed defending.” He gave Caitlin as genuine a smile as anyone had seen since the day of the gunfight. “Hey. Just ignore her, okay? That’s what I do, ’cause she’s lookin’ for a reaction. But thanks. Thanks for caring.” Caitlin nodded. “You still workin’ on your moves?” She nodded again. “Good. We got class tomorrow.”

Caitlin gave him a thin smile and let Jennifer lead her away. Once they got some distance, Cody looked down and shook his head.

“You gonna be okay?” Tim asked him.

“Yeah. I guess. As okay as I’m ever gonna get.” He stood, still looking down. “I need a project, I guess. Somethin’ to do where I don’t have to think about stuff.”

“There’s a lot of things going on,” said Sara. “Jason’s trying to find more seeds for our gardens, Johnny and Max are clearing up all the downfall from the ice storm outside, there’s the patrols…”

“Yeah, and I help with all of that.” Cody stuck his hands in his pockets. “It ain’t enough. I still got too much time to think.”

“I’m sorry, Jenn-mom,” said Caitlin, looking at Jennifer’s feet. “But Kelly’s just so mean to Cody. She’s jealous because he married Sondra, and I —” she shook her head.

“You what?”

Caitlin grimaced and spoke in a rush. “I was jealous too, but I’m not mean to him like that.”

“I know,” Jennifer said, with an inward sigh. “But Cody’s right about this. It’s best to ignore it. He’s got a lot of stuff to work through with losing Sondra, and you don’t want him worrying about you too, do you?”


“Good.” Jennifer paused for a moment, considering. “You know Cody’s too old for you, right?”

Caitlin sighed. “I know. But that doesn’t mean I can’t care what happens to him!”

Again, Jennifer paused for a moment. “You’re right, Caitlin,” she said at last. “We all have to care about him. But don’t let caring about him get in the way — no, that’s not right. Caring and… infatuation. They’re two different things. Okay?”

Caitlin shrugged. “I guess.”

“What is your problem?” Tina asked from Kelly’s bedroom door.

“What problem?”

“With Cody! What the hell are you trying to do, make him commit suicide? Even a ten year old girl can see it!”

“Caitlin has the world’s biggest crush on him, Mom.”

“That doesn’t matter! What matters is that you’ve been doing the equivalent of picking at an open sore, ever since Sondra’s funeral! You need to just back off, young lady.”

“Fine. I won’t say a word to him from now on. Satisfied?” Kelly turned and glared at her mother, her robe tangled up in her crossed arms.

“If you can’t be civil, anyway, that might be for the best. I hope this matter is closed; I’m sure Ben is wondering what’s going on down here. Good night.” Tina stalked away.

Kelly huffed, shook out the robe, and wrapped it around herself before undressing. From the living room, she could hear low voices, Mom probably telling Ben that they had a “discussion” and it wasn’t anything to worry about. She didn’t care. This evening had been one long embarrassment: a girl half her size had come at her and backed her down, everyone asking what was going on, then Mom having to come in and give her two cents. Dad would probably want to talk about it tomorrow, so it wasn’t over yet.

She slipped on her flannel jammies, still under the robe, and pulled on her thick sleeping socks and house shoes before ducking into the bathroom. At least she’d learned how to keep exposed skin to a minimum; guys were lucky that way. She returned to the bedroom and burrowed into the nest of blankets and comforters on her bed, pulled her book out from under the pillow, cranked her flashlight. The nest would warm up soon enough, then she could ditch the robe. Ben had it easy; the living room was the warmest place in the house as long as he woke up in the night to throw a few more sticks in the fireplace, and he was pretty good about that.

She tried to think. What was it that set Caitlin off? She honestly couldn’t remember what she’d said — probably just the usual smack talk, nothing to get so crazy about. Kelly was convinced she wasn’t in the wrong — didn’t anyone else see what Cody was doing to himself? He might not kill himself like Mom thought, but he might as well be dead already, the way he just lived in his own shell.

And now she’d cut herself off. How could she help him now?



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