Pt.1 of 3: “Yankee Determinism” (short fiction)

Doing the cover is even more fun than writing the story. Mostly because it takes less time.
Doing the cover is even more fun than writing the story. (Mostly because it takes less time.)

UPDATE: as of June 9, 2013, the full story is available (FREE! at Smashwords, HERE) for online reading or to download for nearly all your mobile e-book devices.

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“Yankee Determinism” (c) 2009-2013 Patrice Stanton

1 – The patriarch

Morning had long gone. Dappled sunlight shone directly on the south facing window panes of the front storm door to the main house.

Hilltop Farm’s patriarch, old man Walters, checked his watch. Fresh out of patience, he charged back towards the house and whipped the doors open. In the driveway behind him the usual rural quiet was filled with the determined sputtering of his old gas-powered truck. The air began filling with its smoky exhaust.

Where is she?

Dudley-do-right, a golden lab of about a year-and-a-half, rushed from the depths of the kitchen to greet him with a “Woof.” He trotted back, past his empty food bowl; parked in front of the closed cellar door.

Walters had to smile. The creature’d probably eaten his original owners out of house and home. Since the overgrown puppy wandered onto the 140-acre property, shortly after three teenaged grandkids had been similarly dropped, the animal had yet to succeed in denting his larder. But not for lack of trying.

He shouted up the nearby stairway for the eldest teen, all business now, “Alta! Let’s go.” Before any human reply came a muffled concussion from beneath his feet rattled the few remaining knickknacks on the Shaker hall table. The few framed photos dangling on the walls wobbled.

A baby-faced 18 year-old boy, Gil, rushed in from the formal dining room, spoon still in hand, “What the H-E–”

The old man locked eyes with Gil, didn’t know which of the three was most immature, but like a traffic cop, he raised a powerful arm, then simply, “Eliza?”

The dog barked as if eager to help.

The kid’s glare was merely confirmation.

Walters’ once handsome face hardened; creases deepened. Two decades spent working outside, away from well-appointed and climate-controlled offices, well-maintained runways and hangers, and five-figure paystubs would do that to a man. Twenty years hard labor had taken its toll – even in his own fields, make-shift garage workshops, and aviation lean-tos alongside grass-paths.

Good luck getting him to complain aloud, though.

Wearily, he softened as he considered the source of the miniature blast. His youngest charge, 14 year-old Eliza, was “playing” in the basement instead of the shed. Again.

At least there’s no smoke busting out the cellar door this time, he thought, I don’t smell much of anything except – he turned toward the truck and wrinkled his nose at the blue-white exhaust cloud. – Except for that damn “gasoline” ruining the truck a little more with every stroke.

“Alta,” he shouted again for the 19-year-old.

A gangly female, wearing way too much makeup and way too few clothes, burst forth into the upstairs hallway. Her heavy, clomping, descent turned “quick-time.” She kept up the theatrical advance as if she thought intensity might impress sufficiently to make up for tardiness.

“Poppa,” she gasped breathlessly and tried to step around Dudley, “Git you smelly thing,” she wrinkled her nose up at the dog’s attempted greeting, “Poppa, you’ve got to stop her! She’s been doing that all morning…she’s going to kill us all – or at least bring this old place down on top of us.” She put, then kept, her hands in the air, to keep the happy dog from slobbering all over them.

“No more than your stomping,” Poppa said, “Come mere, you…” he slapped his thigh and Dudley trotted to him. Grudgingly he knew he’d have to give Alta’s sister an ultimatum. Her ‘experiments’ had gone beyond risky. Dear little “Roof,” what am I going to do with her? He’d known she was trouble with a capital-T six years ago. She’d first proved her determination to become a pilot-like-you-Poppa by leaping from the roof of the barn.

A muffled, “Sorry, Poppa!” came up through the thankfully still intact mid-1800’s oak flooring as if she’d read his mind.

Years before his other set of grandkids had called him ‘Grandpop,’ these three’d settled on Poppa. Sadly the rapidly changing times, with its dicey communications and dicier travel, meant the patriarch of their shrinking family knew nothing of where those oldest two grandkids or their parents were, or even if they “were.”

He glanced back along the once House Beautiful hallway. Only the chandelier had been rattled by either of the girls. The dog, once again, sat at relaxed-attention by the cellar door, awaiting his mistress.

He pushed the door open for Alta with renewed purpose, “We’re late; it’s already noon. The lines will be down the street already.”

The girl mumbled reflexively, “Sorry.”

2 – The town catch was a royal “bass”

As Walters exited the hardware store, he noted how the line out its door had grown since entering a long, frustrating hour earlier. He’d purchased all he could, though it’d hardly been worth the wait – or the fuel to come into town. He shook his head. Now people stretched to the shop next door  – a boarded-up real estate office.

He scanned the main street. More than half of the town’s eclectic array of businesses had been long closed, all within the span of one 10-year presidential-election cycle. Gone were both jewelry stores, the hobby shop, the quick print-slash-movie rental, and the mostly clothing and artsy- boutiques. The latter dying since the weekenders could no longer legally maintain two residences – and chose not to day-trip “up” from the City in protest.

Still open were a small grocery store, an even smaller “dry goods” store, a bakery, and one Mexican diner. A single-chair beauty salon-cum-barbershop had increased trade by incorporating a few feminine “novelties.” They never failed to appeal to Alta; the lure of a bargain-bazaar made it hard to keep her focused on her own errands, like today.

He frowned, though not at the heartbreak of the closures – he was long over that…it was a newer, personal heartbreak at the moment. Alta had not followed his explicit directions. Hadn’t returned to, then stayed in, their battered pickup.

She stood well away from “the embarrassing, rusted hulk,” in front of the diner, facing the hardware store, though certainly not seeing him. She seemed uncharacteristically silent as Rex, the town “catch” – and its sheriff’s only son – expertly-flattered her.

“Alta,” the old man’s deep voice resonated off the plate glass windows for several feet around. Why didn’t I bring Roof instead? She’d have told the punk to get lost long before now.

The smile fell off Alta’s face as she fearfully focused on the old man, who made a swift hand signal, “cut,” towards her, circling his fingers around midair towards the truck. She mumbled something to Rex, who turned around, but too slow to be nonchalant.

He went all wide-eyed, belying much more concern than likely intended. He looked Walters oh-so-briefly in the eye; took a couple of steps away from Alta. As an afterthought he threw a grin and a, “Good Evening, Mr. Walters,” towards the old man, touched fingertips to his eyebrow in a mocking salute.

The patriarch of the Walters’ clan threw back a, “Punk,” under his breath accompanied by an exaggerated raised-eyebrow scowl – one only a curmudgeonly grandfather could pull off.

You can read the “rest of the story” at Smashwords

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