Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Flash Fiction: Death Among the Dahlias

Yet another week without a prompt from Chuck Wendig. Fortunately, after days of backpacking and watching my son produce page after page of stories, I was motivated to at least start a story. It took another kick in the seat of the pants to finish, but summer vacation or no, here we have an all-new mystery. I have heard you should never hurt an animal in a story, so I apologize, and I swear that no cats were actually injured in the creation of this story.

Death Among the Dahlias

“That’s a job for the police.” I said it with all the conviction I could muster, but Marta brushed my objection aside.

“The police in this town haven’t solved a case in years. And they aren’t going to start with this one.”

I’d known she’d argue, of course. Marta always has an answer to my efforts at sanity. We’ve been best friends since about 10 minutes after I came to this town six years ago, and she’s talked me into more crazy stunts than I managed in the whole 45 years before that. But this one took the cake.

“Why on earth wouldn’t they investigate a murder? And how am I supposed to do it?  I don’t know thing one about police technique or chains of evidence or any of that!”

“How hard can it be? Chief Roberts solved a case once,” she said, undercutting her earlier argument. “Remember? That time when someone stole his car?”

The police chief’s ’51 Chevy received quite a bit more love and attention than his wife, who had turned to gardening for her comfort. But for all that—

“He bungled the evidence and the perp got off.”

“Of course he did. It was the Mayor’s son, and they’ve been playing golf together for decades.”

I nodded, because she was right.

“And you’ve solved other mysteries around here,” Marta drove home her argument.

“Locating a missing purse and a runaway dog aren’t quite the same as solving a murder.” I was already planning how to approach it, though. “So who’s been killed?” I hadn’t heard, and even though I’m usually the last to know things, that seemed odd. Word of a murder should have been all over town in about 3 minutes.

“Mrs. McGillicuddy.”

“Who?” I didn’t know anyone by that name. Then, “Oh!” I glared at Marta. “Isn’t that your neighbor’s cat? You can’t murder a cat!”

She had the grace to blush, but protested, “Someone killed the poor thing, and Karl is very upset.”

I could believe that. Karl Haalverson grew prize daffodils, dahlias, and delphiniums. And he doted on his cat, though he didn’t talk much to his neighbors. Leave it to Marta to be the exception.

“It probably got hit by a car. Or died of natural causes.”

“Someone laid it out on his porch on a bed of cut flowers.”

“Probably they found the animal dead and were trying to be nice about it.”

“I don’t think so. They used his best dahlias. The ones he was cultivating for the flower show.”

I was running out of protests. Even if the cat died of natural causes, someone was using it to threaten poor Karl, who was harmless despite a tendency to think his reluctance to talk meant he wasn’t all there.

“He thinks it’s Mrs. Patel,” Marta added.

“Just because she’s Indian,” I began. Marta knows how to yank my chain, and the small-town narrow-mindedness of this place sometimes gets to me. She let me run on a minute about prejudice and hate.

“She’s his main rival for the flower show.”

I shut up. That made sense. I still didn’t believe she’d done it. Mrs. Patel was an inoffensive widow of about 75 years, and her own flowers were remarkable. She treated them much the same way Karl Haalverson treated his cat—lavished love and good food on them, and talked to them more than to her neighbors.

 “What about Kathy Fields? She’s been trying to unseat those two for years.”

After ten minutes, we had a list of seven people who might have a grudge against Karl. It made me wonder who all might resent me or Marta, given how very much more involved we were in town activities. I turned my mind away from that thought.

Marta led me down the street—she lived a block over from me, which is to say, halfway across town—to see the scene of the crime.

“Karl’s locked himself in his kitchen and won’t come out. I said I’d take care of things.”

I didn’t answer. I was staring down at the still form of what had been a magnificent marmalade cat, and to my surprise I was crying.

It was only when I worked up the courage to touch the corpse that I got myself under control and began to see clearly again, literally and figuratively. I examined the injuries thoroughly before gently lifting the animal and laying her in the basket Marta had brought for the purpose. We’d see later where Karl wanted her buried. Then I looked at Marta.

“I’m pretty sure she was hit by a car. So it’s not murder.”

“Thank heavens for that. But who laid her out here, and why?”

“It might have been meant to make Karl feel better?” I didn’t really believe it. I bent over again and picked something out of the nest of flowers. A few were stained with blood, and I shuddered despite myself.

Marta studied the button I was holding out. “That’s from Agnes McDonald’s sweater. She drops buttons wherever she goes.” We looked at each other, confused. Marta said it. “Why would Agnes hurt Karl? She grows tomatoes, not flowers.” And won first prize every year, too.

“Maybe she really was being helpful?” Somehow I couldn’t believe it. Agnes wouldn’t cut Karl’s best flowers even for this. I stared at the pile of flowers a while longer. Some had been ripped up by the roots, destroying the whole plant. I ran over the list of suspects in my mind, until I found the answer. Someone who would destroy the flowers and leave the false clue.

“I know who did it,” I said.

“Who?”

“Oh, come on. Who stands to benefit from ruining Karl’s flowers and turning people against Agnes?”

We both gazed down the street at the one house where flowers and vegetables competed for space in the painfully neat garden.

Mrs. Roberts' garden.

No, the police would never solve this crime.

###
I don't have any pictures of dahlias, but here are some lupine, alpine daisies, and a columbine in the background.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Final days of the summer reading sale!
Just 99 cents!

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review: At the Water's Edge, by Sara Gruen

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Title: At the Water's Edge
Author: Sara Gruen
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau, 348 pages
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary: 
After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind.

To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war.

Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants.

The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.
 

My Review:
I grabbed this book on a whim while loading my Nook before our recent backpacking trip, and it's definitely a step out of my usual reading. I think the author and publisher would deny it, but it really felt most of the time like a romance, not quite the sort of historical fiction I was looking for.

The WWII setting, in a tiny Scottish village on the shores of Loch Ness, is well drawn, though I realize that mostly I ended up visualizing only the lousy weather, not the actual setting. Certainly the people of the village, beyond the pub/inn where Maddie is staying, are pretty vague. The other women, with whom Maddie becomes friends, are a bit set to "type."

That said, the book was certainly an engaging read. While the characters of Ellis and Hank remain pretty static, and everyone else besides Maddie is clearly a minor character meant to reflect her, Maddie does seem to grow and develop. That is, of course, the whole point of the book, aside from bringing her from a loveless and pointless marriage to a discovery of love and friendship. In fact, I wish more effort had been spent on Maddie's development of friendship--and maybe her discovery that doing something productive is satisfying, and that having money doesn't make you a better person than someone who works for a living--and less on finding her a better lover.

As for that lover--he has the potential to be an interesting person, but I very much disliked the "twist" at the end, which felt pat and easy and negated some of the things Maddie was learning. And as usual, I am disappointed when an author implies that monsters and supernatural beings maybe are real and had an impact on the story (beyond the impact of characters' belief in them; characters can believe whatever they want, I just want the author to remain clear on the difference between fantasy and reality).

All in all, I give this one a mixed rating. The writing, as mentioned was sound and engaging, it just remained, in the end, not my kind of book in many ways--though it comes so close at times to being much more than a romance.

Recommendation:
Good for a book-club read or a vacation. There are a couple of sex scenes that are moderately graphic, but they actually serve a narrative purpose (however obvious that purpose may be).

FTC Disclosure: I checked At the Water's Edge out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

####
The summer sale continues for just 4 more days!
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Monday, July 25, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: The Island of Beyond



This is a book I picked up because my Maine friend mentioned it (see last week's photos). I think the author's a friend of a friend or some such. Close enough to make me pick it up (especially since we just visited a lake in Maine) and far enough not to affect my review in the least :)
 
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Title: The Island of Beyond
Author: Elizabeth Atkinson
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books, 2016, 288 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary: 
Eleven-year-old Martin can hardly imagine a worse summer. His dad is sending him to his great-aunt Lenore, who lives on a tiny island called Beyond. Martin's dad wants him to like "normal" boy things--playing sports and exploring the outdoors. Martin's afraid he'll never be the son his dad wants him to be. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere won't change that.

But nothing about Beyond is what Martin expects. Not peculiar Aunt Lenore, not mysterious Uncle Nedâ-and certainly not the strange, local boy who unexpectedly befriends Martin. Solo can canoe and climb trees and survive on his own in the wilderness, and Martin's drawn to him in a way he doesn't quite understand. But he's not sure he can trust Solo. In fact, can he trust anything about this strange island, where everyone seems to be keeping secrets?
 

My Review: 
A lovely story, with twists and undercurrents, some of which are left to the reader to sort out as he or she pleases. In some ways, this reminds me of Fireflies (reviewed in April), but with more depth, and a beautifully drawn setting.

Martin isn't a character that I felt at first I could relate to. He's a total city kid, hooked on his video games and scared of everything outdoors (kind of the opposite of me). But I soon found him to be a real human, with real problems about not fitting in, feeling like he can't measure up to expectations, and so on. And he finds out that what he needs is what he finds on the Island: people who just accept him for who he is. In fact, it might be a little too simplistic in that sense--but it doesn't feel like it. It feels real, as he blunders his way through new experiences.

There are issues with Martin and his father that they are going to have to sort out some day. Maybe there are more books coming, but I almost hope not. We can imagine the battles they will have over the coming months and years, and don't need to see them :)  And there is just a hint about Martin's sexuality, though nothing is ever made explicit, and he is much more concerned with learning to have a friend for the first time in his life.

Recommendation: 
This is suitable for kids from about 8 up. Adult issues are well filtered through a child's eyes, and aren't the focus anyway. Yet the book feels like it has enough depth to keep the interest of older children and adults.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Island of Beyond out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 


Summer reading sale--The Ninja Librarian and Return to Skunk Corners--just 99 cents!
And yes, work is underway, slowly, on Book 3, The Problem of Peggy
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Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Flash: Replay

The Ninja Librarian has gone hiking again (or still, depending on when you last visited). So we're having 
http://www.alifeexamined.com.au/2016/05/how-long-have-you-been-blogging.html 
Friday a bit early.

This one's from April 2014 and might help answer the question of what I'm doing out there...

Pete the Peak-Bagging Pika

This is a pika. He would be just a bit large to hold in your hand. He's also a wild animal, so if you see one, treat him with respect and don't try to pick him up.
Pika Pete wasn't like the other pikas.  Oh, they all liked the rocky talus slopes high up on the mountains.  But for most of them it was enough to find a burrow near an alpine meadow where they could harvest their winter provisions and watch the seasons change from the front porch.  Pete was different.

Pete would sit on his front porch and, instead of looking down over the meadow and thinking about eating grass and harvesting stalks of delicious flowers, and preparing for winter, he would look up at the high peaks and dream about climbing them.  He already had the top apartment in the talus, so high he harvested the columbine and sky pilot that grew among the rocks, or climbed to the next meadow, rather than joining his neighbors down below.  Yet he still wanted to go higher.

"I don't know why," Pete told his neighbor, Pika Paul.  "I just do.  I want to climb to where I can see in every direction at once.  The rock pile is so confining."

"The rock pile is safe," said Paul.  "If you can see in all directions, you're hawk-bait.  A pika needs a tunnel at his back."

Pete knew that.  But he could see that even the tops of mountains had rocks.  So surely he could find shelter at need, however high he went.

One day Pete decided to stop thinking about climbing the mountain and start actually climbing.  It was summer, so there were plants everywhere he could eat on the way.  He'd gathered an extra-large pile of stems and leaves the day before, and they were carefully laid out on his porch to dry for the winter.  He could afford a day or two for adventure.

With a cheery “eep-eep” to his neighbors, Pete started climbing.  It was easy as long as he was on the talus.  Pikas are very good at running over rocks, almost as though gravity was only for lesser, two-legged creatures.

At the top of the rocks was another meadow.  Pete paused, scanned earth and sky for danger, and dashed to the other side.  He then snuck back out for a mouthful or two of grass.  That was one danger passed, and a good time for a snack!  Then he was off, climbing through a new jumble of rocks.

Pete repeated this process for hours.  Sometimes the bare patches were larger or smaller, the plants swaying columbines or tiny mat plants, but he kept going, aside from pauses to nibble when he got hungry.  Gradually the rocks grew smaller and the bare patches barer. The slope was very steep and sometimes slippery with gravel.  Pete got tired.  Pikas are tough alpine animals, but they are used to running in short bursts, not trotting uphill all day.

At last Pete realized that he wouldn’t be able to finish his climb in a single day.  The “summit” he had seen from his porch was only a ridge on the way up, and the top of the mountain was much higher and farther off than he’d imagined.

A bit of a search found some cubbies under the rocks.  Pete rejected a couple of them because they smelled of other animals, or things he wasn’t sure of.  But not many things lived so high, and soon he found a snug hole, dragged in a few sprigs of phlox, and settled down for a good rest.  Pete found he could sleep anywhere, as long as it was under a rock.

In the morning, Pete went on.  An hour or so later, he nearly gave up.  A big field of snow blocked his way.  Snow!  In mid-summer!  As a pika he of course knew all about snow.  He spent long winters hiding from the snow, snug in his den with his provisions all around him providing insulation as well as dinner.  In the spring he and his fellow pikas had to deal with snow as provisions ran low, though they worked around it as much as possible.  But to meet snow now!  A pika was too easily seen against the white.  Crossing a snowfield was both cold and dangerous.

A little exploration, however, showed Pete a way around the snow, and he scuttled along, considering the idea that there might be places up here where the snow never did leave.  It was a strange thought.

Shortly after noon, Pete reached the summit.  A big pile of rocks gave him a safe approach and a cozy place to rest.  After a good look around for hawks and eagles, he stood for a minute on the very highest boulder, turning to look in all directions.

Everywhere he looked he saw another mountain. 

When Pete started back down from his first summit, he had a lot to think about.

He went down the far side.
###

Like what you read? Take advantage of the summer reading sale and get books 1 & 2 for only 99 cents each!
 
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And if you enjoy the pictures, consider
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It has pikas :)  And the ebook is always 99 cents! Paperback is only $7.99, 26 pages in full color!
 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings: Sequoia National Park

Okay, confession: we spent 5 days in Sequoia NP...and only saw a few of the big trees as we drove by on our way out.  How did we do that, you ask? We spent our time far above their habitat.  Here's the scoop.

Day 1. After driving up from SF late on Friday, we had to rise early Saturday to go stand in line to get a backcountry permit. I miss the days when we just signed in at a trailhead and started hiking, but it's a reality. Numbers have to be limited in too many areas. We get our permit, and even after eating breakfast and finishing our packing, we are ready to hit the trail at something like 9 a.m.
Yes, I'm making breakfast on the curb. With deer. And using a paper towel as a coffee filter.
The trail to Pear Lake, our first camp and the only one that is a) below treeline and b) restricted, is crowded with dayhikers. That doesn't ruin the scenery, and people-watching can be a distraction from the hard work of carrying a first-day pack up 2000'.
A prime feature of the Lakes Trail is the Watchtower, with what must be nearly 1000' of vertical relief.
Flowers along the way are amazing. Lower down, we saw leopard lilies and wild geranium along with lupine and paintbrush. Up near the lake (9500'), it was mostly penstemon, with delicate yellow columbines.
This was the only time we got any clouds to add interest to the photos, or relief from the sun.
Pear Lake was beautiful, as advertised.
Evening light on the lake.
Perfect morning reflections.
Day Two. This was the end of trails and the end of other campers nearby. We were up early and off up the slope above the lake (out of sight to the left of the picture), while other campers watched from below, possibly wondering if we had lost our minds (or thinking that we had the right idea. It all depends). The sun rose as we topped out the first rise in a veritable garden of wildflowers.
Paintbrush
It took about 3 hours to make our way over several more ridges and into the area called the Tableland. We kept going until we were well onto the "plateau" (a great deal more ridged and slopey than it looked on the map) and found a decent alpine lake. Then we spent the better part of an hour searching for a campsite with views, a breeze, and access to the water. We ended up with a pretty good compromise.
Mosquitoes were pretty bad. Thus the desire for a breeze--and the strange headgear.
Sunset view from camp. No clouds, but a fire to the south made for some colorful haze.
Day Three. It got pretty cool overnight, and we saw the evidence as we set out for a long dayhike.
Ice on the snow-melt pool.
Our goal for the day was the top of the King-Kaweah Divide, and a few lakes just over the other side. We got seduced by the wrong drainage, and got a good view of an extra canyon, before finding our way around to overlook Deadman Canyon.
Two unnamed lakes that are our goal. Distant peaks are part of the Great Western Divide.
Big slabs of granite gave us easy access to the upper lakes (Big Bird Lake is barely visible above to the right of the peaklet). But the cliffy rampart was a surprise, as maps suggested we could climb out that way. No way.
Idyllic Sierra lakes.
We explored the lake basin, peered over the edge at Big Bird Lake, but as the shortcut back out was clearly a no-go, we didn't drop all the way down. Instead, we climbed back up more or less the way we came, and circled around to the high point above the lakes.
The lakes are behind me, where I am carefully not looking down the cliff.
By the time we returned to camp, it was after 5, and we'd been out hiking (and photographing and eating) for 9 hours. It was tiring, but better than hanging around in camp swatting mosquitoes and cooking under the blazing sun. There was just time enough for a bath (and then another bath in DEET) and dinner before the sun went down and the evening chill iced the mosquitoes.

Day Four. Another early start, as we had an ambitious day. Our change of plans on Day 3 had left one lake unvisited, and we resolved to explore it before moving camp to our final position.
Backlit flowers and low light are one of the benefits of an early start.
We didn't do a very good job of selecting a route, which meant we spent a lot of extra time scrambling up and down slopes. Eventually, however, we reached the saddle that gave access to the  basin housing Lonely Lake. We rambled about, eventually descending to the lake and enjoying a pleasant wade on the sandy beach at the upper end. (That was also where we saw the marmots.)
Not back to camp until after 2, we rested for an hour or so before packing up and heading for Moose Lake, our final-night destination. Happily, unlike all the dayhikes, the hike to Moose Lake was much shorter than I thought it might be, and we settled into camp about 5 p.m.
Descending to Moose Lake
There were still no clouds, so no great sunsets, but we had a different view of the peaks and a nice perch not too far from the lake. The buzzers were more bite-y here, so that bathing was tricky. You were fine in the water, but the transition from lake to clothes was perilous indeed!
The photographer at dusk. That would be the other photographer, my husband.
Day Five. The final day. We knew we had a tough one ahead of us--2 or 3 miles cross-country, then about 6.5 miles of trail to reach the car--and a 5-hour drive home. With the alarm set for 5:30 a.m., we were able to hit the trail just before 7. We didn't neglect the photos even with a tight schedule.
Moose Lake at sunrise.
Shooting Stars
A huge clump of paintbrush halfway across a rough traverse.
It took us nearly 3 hours to reach the trail, and only 2 1/2 hours to reach the car from there! Route finding and picking your way over boulders and through brush can be a slow process. Long ago there was a trail all the way to Moose Lake, and for some of the distance we were able to follow it. But when the going got tough--the trail apparently got going, because it was nowhere to be found!
Sorting ourselves out at the car.
Sick and tired of trail lunches, we were happy to stop at the Lodgepole Visitor Center and the campground store, where we happily chowed down on burgers & fries (and fruit), and chased it with ice cream. We were home in time for a late dinner!
When you come to the end of a great hike, you deserve ice cream.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


And the sale goes on, while the Librarian is out hiking! 
  Only 99 cents each!
 
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Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday Marmots

The Ninja Librarian has gone hiking.* While we are away, here are some marmots for you.

*This also means that responses to comments will be delayed. There's no internet in the mountains, and if there were the NL wouldn't use it.


So: marmots. I believe the marmots in question, from Sequoia National Park, are yellow belly marmots.


I never before saw a marmot washing its face.

Keeping watch


This guy was watching our camp last year in a different part of the Park. They crave salt, and will chew any kind of gear or clothing to get it. I'm pretty sure he was eyeing my boots.
These guys are all lovely. Marmots are cute and furry and a lot of fun to watch.

As a public service, I'm adding a photo that's not so lovely. This is a spot called Lonely Lake. It took us 3 days to reach it, two days off trail. And what did we find? Someone's trash. Not from a hiker, this time. From someone who either carelessly or deliberately let go a mylar balloon. If we hadn't carried it out...it would be there more or less forever. This one was probably an accident, but people still do deliberate balloon releases. Just don't do it. The things can travel 100s of miles and end up where no trash ever ought to be.
Yes, we pick up and carry out any trash we find. It makes me sad that we have to.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Fiction

In a nice collision of discouragements to a new story, not only did Terribleminds.com not give us a writing prompt this week, but the Ninja Librarian was out backpacking and only got home late Wednesday. Somehow, with all the other chores, a new story didn't get written. So...how about a sneak preview of The Problem of Peggy, i.e. the Ninja Librarian #3? This is from Chapter 1, and is about 2000 words.

Trouble Brewing

With nothing much for entertainment in Skunk Corners, everyone came to the spelling bee. They couldn’t all jam into the schoolroom, so we all trooped over to Tess’s, where the barroom had more space. Johnny agreed not to serve anything stronger than sarsaparilla while the kids were there, and we got down to some serious spelling. Eunice Reeves was up, trying to spell “procrastination,” when I slipped out the door for some air and a trip to the privy. Tom and Tess between them were running the spelling bee, and doing a fine job of it.
  I finished what I went out to do, and blew out the candle I’d used to light my way. I lingered a moment under the trees behind the Tavern and the bank, enjoying the cool night air and letting my eyes adjust to the dark.
   That was when I heard the soft plunk of hooves, extra soft like maybe they’d been wrapped in cloth to keep quiet.
   My eyes might have still been dazzled from the lights, but there was nothing wrong with my ears. Those horses were coming down the Endoline trail. I was glad I’d blown out my candle before I left the privy. As long as I didn’t move, I’d be invisible.
   Someone was sneaking into our town, and on the night when pretty much everyone was watching our children prove they could spell. Was that just chance? Six horses grew visible in the darkness. I couldn’t see any details, but it was definitely six horses, and six riders who didn’t belong around here.
   Honest men came to Skunk Corners by daylight, and most of them came off the train, or up the trails from down the mountain. People in Endoline didn’t have horses. People in Endoline didn’t have much of anything. It was in the name: Endoline. End of the line. Where you ended up when you'd run out of options. All the wealth had been sucked out of that place long since, before we’d contrived to send Mort Black packing. That man had thought he owned the place, and every person in it. Once, he’d thought he owned me, too. That was how I came to move to Skunk Corners: to make myself some options and prove I was no one’s property. Our town wasn’t much, but it was a long sight better than Endoline, even before the Ninja Librarian came and straightened things up.
   So I figured that anyone riding down the Endoline Trail quiet-like in the night was probably up to no good, and I snuck up a bit closer so’s I could hear them talking.
   “That’s it right there. Just a quick job.”
   “What’re we doing, anyway? Stick-up? Blow the safe?”
   “Don’t need to blow it. Boss says he wants some papers, and not just the money.” The man’s voice reflected his puzzlement over this command. I was confused, too. Papers? What for? And why wouldn’t they have to force the safe?
   His companions shared his feelings, and mine. “What in heck would we do that for? It’s a bank. You get money from banks, not paper.”
   “Mebbe some papers is more valuable than money.” The hoarse voice came from the smallest rider. A couple of the others started to laugh, but stifled it when someone hissed, “Shut up!”
   “So what’re we waiting for?” That was the guy who wondered what the job was. For someone who didn’t know much, he was mighty impatient.
   “Boss says wait for him. He’s comin’ up from the hide-out in the Badlands.”
   I wondered who the boss might be, and didn’t like the ideas that came to me. I tried not to think about it.
   “Too bad.” That was the little guy again. He sounded like someone who liked hurting people. “Looks like everyone’s in the Tavern just now. Some kinda party. We could take care of that bank right now and no one the wiser.”
   I felt a chill. I didn’t like Mr. Tolliver, the banker, but he was part of our town. I had to stop this.
How? If I went and raised the alarm, the men might ride off, but they might hurt some folks first. There were too many small fry in Tess’s place to risk involving them. But I couldn’t handle six fellows alone.
   I turned and tiptoed back around to the kitchen side of Tess’s. There was no light there, so I could slip in without being noticed. I ran quickly across and opened the barroom door just enough to get Johnny’s attention. He saw me, because he noticed most everything around his bar, and paused only to grab his shotgun. I smiled. Johnny’s pretty quick.
   Eunice had survived “procrastination,” and was watching while Lije misspelled “precaution.” I wondered if Tom had sensed something and chosen that word as a message to me. I’d take it as one, anyway.
   Johnny eased the door shut behind him, and we stood in the dark kitchen while I whispered an explanation.
   “I don’t want to get nobody hurt,” I finished. “And I’m afraid if we try to get the men-folk out of there,” I jerked a thumb at the other room, though he couldn’t see it in the dark, “we’ll have a panic. The rider are waiting for their boss, whoever that might be.”
   “I ain’t seen Hank and Yance tonight. They might be over in their workshop.”
   That was a thought. My two former students were apprenticed to Mr. Holstead and his carpentry business. They slept over the workshop, which was about the only place they wanted to be anyhow.
   “Run get them,” I said. “I’ll keep an eye on this lot.”
   Johnny didn’t waste time arguing. He was out the back door before I could gather my thoughts and follow, moving like a shadow off towards the Holstead’s.
   The bank robbers were still clustered in the woods, so it looked like they were waiting on their mysterious boss. And it looked like he was due any time.
   My biggest worry was guns. I didn’t want any kind of shoot-out, because someone would get hurt for sure. I didn’t care if these fellows got themselves killed, but there were women and children in that tavern a few yards away. We had to handle this delicately.
   A mosquito buzzed in my ear, and I batted it away, then turned up my collar. I had learned from Tom to hold still no matter what, but I drew the line at letting the blood-suckers have more of me than I needed to. That went double for two-legged blood-suckers like the ones I was watching. I crept a little closer, then prepared to wait without moving, mosquitoes or not. I was close enough now to know these fellows didn’t bathe much.
   The riders were getting restless. “Where the heck is the boss, Smitty?” That was the whiney one again.
   “He’s coming. Hold your hosses,” growled the voice that had hushed them earlier. “Shut up.”
   “Don’t see why we gotta wait,” another one grumbled.
   “I said to shut your yammering! We need him ’cause he knows the signal.”
   Well, that was interesting. I wondered what signal that would be. But the men’s restlessness was giving me an idea. Johnny and the boys would move in from the other side if they could, and the boys might steal the horses if they got a chance. Johnny had big ideas about capturing this lot, which worried me some.
   I thought maybe I should try to spook them before the boys did something we’d all regret. I slipped out of my shoes and crept a little closer, thinking hard.
   “Hey!” One of the men changed the subject. “I smell a skunk!”
   I sniffed. Sure enough, I smelled one too, and not far off.
   “Sure,” said Smitty. “That’s why they call this place Skunk Corners. I hear it’s lousy with the stinkers.”
   Well, we did have skunks aplenty. That worried me some, because they didn’t have cause to love me. I’d have to take my chances this time. I thought maybe I could use that skunk to some good end.
   An outlaw on a light-grey horse, visible even in the dark, spoke up. What he said gave me a fright. “What’s Mort want with this place, anyhow? It ain’t much.”
   Mort. Mort Black. The thing I’d told myself was just foolish fear, was real. We thought we’d chased that low-down thief off for good, but he was back. I took a deep breath to calm myself while Smitty answered.
   “I reckon Endoline’s played out and he wants fresh blood. He’ll take over here and we’ll live like kings, with all them woman at Tess’s Tavern.” The laughter that followed that chilled me even more.
Not if I had anything to say about it they wouldn’t. And then I did have something to say. It was too dark for the men to see each other well, and I was almost underfoot. I was making the horses uneasy, but the men blamed the skunk. I made my voice as much as I could like the little guy they seemed scared of and said the thing I thought would upset them the most.
   “Mebbe Mort don’t plan to share.”
   “Course he’ll share,” Smitty said. “He always has.”
   “Allus a first time. He done set us to do the dirty work, ain’t he?” That was one of the other men. Seemed my question had set loose some doubts. I worked on them some more.
   “Anyhow, I smell that skunk, and I don’t like it. I hear them critters are just unnatural round here. Maybe they’s hydrophoby skunks!”
   “Stop fussing. Anyhow, we don’t gotta do nothin’. Just wait for Mort.”
   “Stupid to wait,” the little guy insisted. “This here’s our chance, while everybody’s busy. There’s something he ain’t telling us. Some secret about this place.”
   The creak of saddle leather told me at least some of the men were dismounting. To move in and rob the bank? I moved a little closer under cover of their sounds, thinking that if I had to fight, I’d take out the leader first, and let the boys handle the rest.
   “Ground-hitch them hosses so’s we can leave in a hurry,” the bossy one said, and I heard then what I guessed none of the men did: a horse coming, not too far off. If that was Mort Black, we had to move fast. I tried another approach, desperate to take care of them before Black could rally them.
   “Boss shoulda been here by now. I tell ya, he’s leavin’ all the work to us. An’ what fer? So’s he can get rich, I reckon. And what do we get?”
   That set them to arguing a bit, which hid the sound of Black approaching.
   I smelled Stinky pass close by me, and danged if that skunk didn’t walk right in among the men and start rubbing up against them like a cat. The one with the coarse laugh was first to notice.
   “Hey, there’s a cat or somethin’ out here getting cozy with my legs!”
   I jumped on the opening. “Reckon it’s done tangled with a skunk, then. ’Less that stink is you. When’s the last time you took a bath, anyhow?”
   That set them to bickering again, and they all huddled up to do it in angry whispers, with an occasional, “there’s that kitty again,” mixed in with the cussing and arguing. I backed off a bit, thinking it might be time to get out of there. I was just far enough away to miss the worst of it when that skunk cut loose.
   Stinky had a good sense of timing. You never heard such cussing and choking in your life. I’d have laughed, if I’d dared. The bandits took off for their horses, stumbling blindly, eyes watering too much to see their way. I guessed by the stamping and neighing that the horses didn’t much like their scent, but they scrambled into the saddles and rode right up the trail and smack into Mort Black. I heard him yelling and cussing, but his men wouldn’t stop, and his voice gradually faded as he gave up and rode after them.
   “Thanks, Stinky,” I said quietly, and started back toward the Tavern.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Like what you read? Take advantage of the summer reading sale and get books 1 & 2 for only 99 cents each!
 
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0079NQFAA  
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1490560742



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wednesday Photos

We are into the summer travel and hiking season, and that means less time to read and review books. But it means more photos to share! We recently spent a week in Maine, so here are a few highlights.

Among other things (like visiting colleges with our about-to-be-Senior), we spent three days camping at Flagstaff lake, a large man-made lake about 25 miles from the border with Quebec.

This gave us a chance to get up very, very early and see the sunrise (do you know how early the sun rises in Maine a few days after the summer solstice??). Given how warm the days were, it was something of a surprise to find it was only 43 degrees when we crawled out at 4:45 a.m.

Mist rising on the water before the sun hits.
We thought this pond looked like moose habitat, but the moose didn't cooperate.
We went on to climb peaks in the Bigelow Range, some of the highest in Maine (not very high by western standards, but the trails start low and climb rather directly).
This was the sucker part, the easy walk through a birch forest.
This was the stairs part. Later, we realized that this was the trail being NICE. Other places were at least as steep and just a pile of rocks.


Cool to hit the Appalachian Trial, though--and just a week before, we'd hiked a little piece of the Pacific Crest Trail!
We hit the ridge near the West Peak, and went back down about .3 miles past Horns Pond.
It was a grunt to get there, but the view was phenomenal. The lake is spread out below, lots of inlets and island for good paddling.
After all that hiking, sitting on the dock watching the sunset was about right.
Next day, hiking wasn't looking so good, so we rented some boats. Our local friends had their own, and looked pretty competent. (I had to use my husband's photos, as we decided to risk only one camera on the water).
Perfectly calm morning.
Our boys, on the other hand, had only once before been in such boats. They were...entertaining.
Not sure if they didn't know about keeping the paddles in unison, or if they couldn't pull it off!

A good workout deserves a good treat, and a nearby town was celebrating "Family Fun Day" with things like ice cream for sale.
The spouse and I had blueberry, of course.
Before and after the lake adventure, we did a couple of daytrips to the coast.
Rockport
You know you're in a small town when the checkout stand at the local bookstore looks like this. No one around, total honor system. We left our payment in an envelope per instructions.
There was even an IOU option!

I greatly fear all the travel was too much for my boys!
This was the next day after arrival--and we took a red-eye from the west coast. They got up before that cloud started dumping rain on them.

Hope you enjoyed the little trip to Maine!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


Summer reading sale--The Ninja Librarian and Return to Skunk Corners--just 99 cents!
And yes, work is underway, slowly, on Book 3, The Problem of Peggy
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0079NQFAA  
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1490560742