Big announcement!

The first collection of my series, Chickenshit, is now available for pre-sale on Amazon Kindle for $2.99. Its official release date is 11/22/17, just in time for Thanksgiving. You can still read the entire series for free on amystinnett.com, but only for the next five days.

For those people (I’m one of those people) who like to read old-fashioned books made of paper, the paperback version will be out in time for Christmas shopping (you can check back at the same link above).

Read below to get a gist of the plot, but you’ll have to read the series to find out what torture (and bliss) Billie has in store for her.

Billie’s life is right on track. Solid. She has a cute girlfriend to hang with and an internship to build her resume until she goes back to U Dub next fall. But when her girlfriend bails on her and she inherits her dad’s farm in nowhere Idaho, you could knock her over with a feather. Milepost is a world away from Seattle in more ways than one. There’s no good coffee, the locals are a mixed bag, and there is no social life whatsoever. As for the farm – the chickens try her patience, everything she owns is covered in poop, and the goats may prove her undoing. There’s no doubt she is in over head just getting the place ready to sell, and her mom and best friend are frustratingly supportive without giving her any answers. Luckily, she has help from a hired man of sorts, an attorney she happens to be named after, a gorgeous librarian/cowgirl, and a bunch of people she doesn’t even know. The road to making a decision is definitely rocky, and soon she begins to ask herself: How can she go back to the big city after being down on the farm?

 

 

 

Crisis #10 Wild Turkeys

March 22, 2013

At 2:36 a.m. something that sounded like a demon being slaughtered bellowed in my ear. I sat bolt upright and clawed at the baby monitor on the coffee table to turn the sound down. It didn’t sound any better at a lower decibel. I ran to the mudroom, threw on my outside clothes, and raced to the barn, slipping in mud and nearly falling at the corner. One of the remaining pregnant does was lying on her side, mouth raised toward the roof, howling with pain. I stuffed my hands in all my pockets and found no cell phone. It was back on the counter in the house, charging. I looked down at her backside and saw a giant hoof poking out. No time to go get the phone.

I reached around past the hoof, trying to find the other one. It was there! Having watched so many births over the last few days, even pulling one myself with Elliot’s help, I kind of knew what to do. This kid was stuffed so tight against her, though. I grabbed a towel and dried the hoof and part of the leg so I could get a hold of it. Just then, I felt the doe start to rare back and push the baby, and the second hoof popped out. I wiped it off, and a moment later she was pushing again.

I found myself giving her lots of encouragement, like I would a person. “Come on, Mama Goat, you can do it. Here he comes, just a couple more pushes.”

One more push, and the nose and head with its tongue lolling out. The shoulders squeaked through, and plop, out came the whole kid. He was huge! I cleared the little guy’s mouth and nose and rubbed him all over with rags and pulled him over to his mother, who just stared at him and licked him once on the head. He was flopping around like a drunk seal, but clearly healthy. I was so relieved. Mama Goat snorted at me and commented that she’d rather I didn’t mess with her offspring, so I backed off. She got up and started cleaning him, steam floating up from the kid and his mother’s mouth. Within minutes, he was stumbling around his mother like a last call drunk.

I collapsed onto one of the straw bales and enjoyed the beauty of the moment. Maybe there is something to this parenting thing, after all.

Most of the other births had been twins, so I was prepared for a second delivery to happen soon. Sure enough, Mama Goat lay down and started grunting. This time, though, she wasn’t bellowing like the end of times. After the size of the last one, I was certain the next kid would be a breeze, and she was pushing the thing out like a pro. I just stood by, and moments later, a new kid plopped out on the ground behind her.

She sniffed it, licked its face, and went over to her other kid to start him nursing. I couldn’t see any movement from the new kid, so I knelt down and wiped his face with the cloth. No movement. I pried his mouth open, reached in and cleared it of a ton of goop. Still no movement. His tongue lolled to the side. I started to panic.

If I went to call Sheila or anybody, it would be too late for this one. Elliot said sometimes you have to turn them upside down and spinning them. It sounds brutal, but I was willing to try anything. I grabbed the kid’s back legs and shook it. I turned around, and its head and front legs flailed lifelessly against me. I shifted my arms around the top of its back legs and spun around, hoping anything in its throat might come loose. I spun and spun until I almost fell down. Nothing.

I lay the kid down and tried rubbing it briskly. Nothing was working! I screamed out of frustration and looked around madly for something I could use to help. I begged Mama Goat, “Please fix this one!” But she just stared at me, chewing her cud like nothing tragic was happening. The first kid was bumping into her, desperately looking for a teat. I reached down and cupped the second kid’s nose with my hand and blew into it. He was getting colder. I could tell by the steam subsiding around his body and none issuing from his mouth and nose. I picked him up again and swung him around ‘til I was dizzy. Same result.

This time, I collapsed on the straw bale, slid onto the ground, and burst into tears. Is there anything more terrible than losing a newborn life? I can’t imagine what it could be. Mama Goat seemed okay; she had one baby, and that was enough for her. But I sat there wishing I’d been more prepared, that I’d had my phone and called Elliot or Sheila or anybody even one iota more competent than me. I was sure that if I had, the baby goat would still be alive. This kid dying was my fault.

Through my tears, I saw a water bucket, knocked over and leaning against the barn wall. I half-remembered Elliot saying something about cold water. I jumped up and grabbed the bucket, still about half-full, and poured it onto the baby’s body. His body shrank bag, and his head moved! Then he pulled his tongue into his mouth and made a gurgling noise. I leapt to his side and swept his mouth of the gunk that must have dislodged from his throat. I started vigorously drying him off.

Mama Goat sauntered over and began licking him, her first-born, confused at being cut off from nursing, bleated.

“Sure, now you’re interested,” I told Mama Goat.

Once the kid was toweled off and under its mother’s care, I pulled myself back to my hay stack. I leaned back and breathed in the barn smells and the utter joy of not losing that baby goat. I lay down on my side and stared at the perfect little goat family getting to know each other. I closed my eyes and, out of sheer emotional exhaustion, fell asleep.

March 23, 2013 (continued)

In my dream I hear boots trampling over rocks. I am climbing a hill and the other climbers are above me, just out of sight. I’m sure my dad is with them. I need to catch up. I yell, “Wait for me!” and race to catch up, sliding in the loose rocks.

“Billie?”

Who was that? Dad?

“Billie. Uh. You should get in the house.”

I opened my eyes and stared up at Elliot, who was sideways for some reason, lifting his hat up and scratching his moppy red head. Under me, I felt the hard pack of a well-worn pony blanket over a giant straw bale and pushed myself up to join the living. The low-lying sun winked over Elliot’s shoulder.

“Oh, she went last night?” He pointed at Mama Goat. “How’d that go?”

I breathe in a thought to play it cool but ditched the idea immediately. “Huge first one, second one almost died.”

He looked at the second kid, a quarter smaller than its older brother, then back at me. “You done good.”

“I almost gave up. It was terrifying.”

“Almos’ don’t count. These late ‘uns can be the hardest. I lost two last year. Stillbirth and one deformed. A coupla years ago, one from white muscle disease. Things happen.”

“Aw, crap! I haven’t dipped them yet.”

“That’s okay, I’ll get ’em. You get in the house and get warmed up.”

“Okay. I’ll be out in a few minutes to help you.” I stood up, feeling stiff as a board.

“Whenever you’re ready. I’ll be here ’til noon. Pretty sure I can get things caught up.”

I slogged my way into the house and let a hyper and annoyed Frodo outside to do his business before I went inside to do mine. I splashed some water on my face and got ready to go back outside. My head was pounding, so I sat on the couch for a moment, trying to gather my thoughts. Selling this place, not selling this place, leaving Elliot and Jodie, Elliot quitting the farm, dying babies, saved babies, Mom and Dad … and Bill, not going back to school, facing Seattle alone, Mom and her new family. All the concerns that plagued me whirled around in my brain, none settling, none reaching anything resembling a conclusion. And all the while, one phrase kept interrupting them: walk the land.

I filled my water bottle and shuffled out the door, hoping Elliot would understand my bailing on him to just walk around and essentially do nothing. As I stood on the edge of the porch, letting my eyes acclimate to the bright sunlight, now a few more inches above the horizon, the little grey hen, then one I had struggled to corral that one day, hopped across the driveway, intent on the chicken run. Behind her, four fuzzy chicks rushed to catch up.

“So, that’s what she’s been up to.” Elliot peeked around the corner of the house. “She must be ready to eat some real food.”

I marveled at her tiny body. Although she was all fluffed out, I could tell she had lost a bunch of weight. “Is she okay?”

“Yep, she’ll be fine. She’s just been sitting her nest ’til she’s almost starved. But watch her.” He went over to the run and opened the gate, and the birds scooted inside. We crowded the gate and peered at the little family. She went straight to the feeder and began pecking. Her children edged around her to see what the feeder was all about, trying the smaller pieces and huddling close. Soon they fanned out and began nosing around the run. A curious hen sidled up to one of the chicks and pecked at it. Mama Chicken lashed out at her in a bluster of angry squawks, diving at the other hen’s head with her feet and beak. “See, she’ll clobber anybody who comes near those chicks.”

“Hey, I know this is dumb, but shouldn’t there be a whole bunch more chicks? It’s spring now, maybe too early?”

“Well, no, but we take the eggs. And we didn’t set any in the incubator. I figured you had enough on your hands already. And what’s the point? They won’t lay ’til fall, and the place will be somebody else’s by then, most likely.”

“Elliot, I have to tell you, I’ve really been struggling with selling the place.”

“I kinda figured. But I guess you’ll figure it out when you figure it out, right?”

“I don’t know if I can do it. And not to lay anything on you, I’m pretty sure I can’t do it without you. I been here long enough to know I don’t know shit about farming.”

“You can read, right? How do you think your daddy learned? Besides that, he wrote a ton of stuff. You can just read what he wrote, for beginners. And there’s stuff all over the internet. Geez, you got to give yourself a break. Besides, you still got me. I’m just down the road. People do for people here. Look, you don’t owe me a damn thing. I’m just your daddy’s old buddy. Sure, I do stuff around here, but that’s my choice, AND I get some money from it. But I owe you gratitude, not just for your dad and this place but for how you helped me with my mama and all.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t like to talk about stuff, but you were kind to me. I wouldn’t return that by lettin’ you down.”

“I know that. And you didn’t let me down. I just thought you’re going to be at the vet’s, so …”

“So, nothing. Just less time here. I’ll still help you.”

“Oh.” I wanted to hug Elliot at that moment, but neither of us was very comfortable with closeness, before or since his mother died.

He clamped his hand on my shoulder. “Looks like you got more help coming.”

Jodie’s little car turned off the main road and headed down the driveway. She leaned underneath the car’s visor and grinned at me. She had a ball cap shoved tightly down on her head with a pony tail hanging out the back. Why was she always so happy? Elliot waved at her and headed off to the goat barn.

“Here you go.” She handed me a latte from the convenient store. “I don’t go in until one today. What’s up?”

I thought for a second. “I was just about to go for a walk. You wanna come?”

“Sure.”

We went through the gate at the hay pasture and quietly picked our way through the uneven, half-frozen earth. With the dew steaming up from the field, the place looked heavenly. We stopped in a flat area and sipped our coffees.

“How are you doing?” Jodie asked softly.

“I’m okay. I had a hard night. We almost lost one of the babies.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

I sighed. “And that’s not all. I know the plan has always been to sell the place, but I’m having second thoughts. I don’t want to go, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome, either.” I sat my coffee on a fence post.

She shoved me gently against my arm. “You can’t wear out your welcome in your own house. Derp.”

“I guess that sounded stupid, but do you know what I mean? Everyone has been great, but what if I can’t take care of this place? I almost killed a baby last night, what if I ruin everything? Besides, I had plans. I would have to just let all that go.”

“Well, it would be hard to take care of the place and go to school. I had to live in Boise my senior year because my family’s farm was too much of a distraction. What is it you want to do, though? It sounds like it’s not a simple decision anymore.”

“Well, no, it’s not. I don’t want to give up my career path, but … I love this place now, okay. I don’t know why, but I don’t want it to go away. I’m no farmer, but I want …” I looked to her for something, I don’t know what. “I want to keep this place the way it is, not turned into a McMansion or to add to some guy’s farm collection. What I really want is to share it with my dad.” My face went ugly to cry, so I grabbed my coffee and started walking again. Jodie followed me.

We reached another flat area just before a stand of trees at the end of the field.

“I’m sorry about your dad. If I could, I would bring him back for you.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not very stable right now. Sometimes I have all but made my mind up one way, and then some animal does something cute or I do something stupid. Liv would like it if I stayed, and I think Elliot would, too. My mom hated farm life, but she has a new family now, and she won’t tell me what she thinks one way or the other. I just want somebody to tell me what to do.”

“Well, that’s the sucky part. You have to decide. I can tell you I wish you would stay. I’ve just barely got to know you, and I think you’re amazing. But that’s selfish, and it wouldn’t be any good if you stayed and felt stuck here. If you’re looking for permission, you’ve always had permission to go, maybe you just haven’t given yourself permission to stay?”

“Maybe you’re right. Do you think I can do this?” I raised my hands to pan out to the entire property.

“With a lot of help, yeah. Yes, you could do this. You’re smart enough, and, you know, your dad had a lot of help here, too. Even a little farm requires a lot of people to do things. People to deliver things, haul away things, repair things, clean up things, plant things, harvest things. There’s no way you could do it all. My dad does a lot, but he still has had to hire somebody every spring and every fall. Even with me helping out. I know the internship means a lot to you, but couldn’t you finish the year and leave in good standing? And you have work here, too, right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“So, you could stay current and take some courses online. I mean, if you want to do that.”

“I would be okay with that. I guess I’m just scared to take on so much responsibility.”

“The fact is, you already have the responsibility. It’s just what you want to do with it.”

I sat my coffee down on the ground, planted my feet, and looked her square in the face. “I want to stay. I’m going to stay.”

“Okay.” She smiled. “Then stay.”

“You would miss me if I left.”

“Of course.” She gazed at some bushes in the distance. “Billie, I’ve tried not to get too close to you, since you always said you were leaving, but I really like you. You make me laugh all the time, you’re cute, you’re intelligent, and I wish I had half of your swagger.”

“Swagger?” I snorted, but my heart was racing.

“Well, persistence, maybe. You work so hard. You’ve learned so much in the short time you’ve been here. And you aren’t full of yourself.”

“Are you insane? I am about as incompetent as they get. I can barely breathe half the time. Why have you never said anything.”

“This is the part where you say out loud that you find me adorable.”

“I do. Since the day you showed up here to shovel my driveway.”

“You are a slow learner, aren’t you?”

“Not that slow.” I took her hands, leaned in, and kissed her. Her eyes closed, and her face smoothed and leaned into mine. The bill of her hat tapped my forehead, so I slipped it off and let my hand rest on her shoulder.

“I believe in you.” She kissed me again.

“I’m getting that. It means everything to me. You mean everything to me.”

“I just couldn’t be the only reason you stay.”

“There are so many reasons to stay, but I think you’re the best reason.”

“I mean it, you can’t just stay because of me. We have a lot of things to figure out, a long way to go before …”

“Before what?”

“I don’t know, we become ‘we’.”

“Are you out, you know, to your family, at work? No one has ever said anything to me.”

“Some places, yes, others I’m more guarded. It’s complicated. Something we can talk about later.”

“Okay, get this on the books. I am staying first and foremost because I love this goddess-forsaken place and some of the people here, you being one of them. The main one of them.” I wrapped my arms around her. “I would stay even if we were just friends, if that’s what you mean, but I think you were right. I needed to give myself permission. You helped me. And, I hope going forward, whatever happens, there will be a ‘we’.”

I became aware of a crunching sound, something treading on dry leaves.

“Look there.” Jodie pointed to the dead-looking bushes, and I saw a dozen or so turkeys walking through the grass.

“They’re beautiful.” The sun highlighted their feathers, making their pod shaped bodies appear like shiny chrysalises. Their long necks jutted forward, and their legs jerked, pushing their bodies along, too. They maneuvered around the bushes, checking the grass for bugs, each moving independently, yet still obviously tied to its flock.

“Oh, just wait.”

We stood in silence, holding hands and listening to the bird calls. Nothing like the “gobble-gobble” I’ve always heard about. It was almost like a bark “rawk-rawk-rawk, rawk-rawk.” The birds edged our way, gleaning the field for treats. When they were within a couple dozen yards away, Jodie motioned for us to sit down. Instantly, the birds took flight and soared across the field towards the road. We could hear the whap, whap, whap of their wings as they nearly flew over our heads.

We lay back on the cold ground and stared at the bright blue sky for a long moment.

“So, you’re staying?”

I turned and gazed into her eyes. Every worry I’d had for the last two months seemed to fall to the way-side. I was here, lying in a cold hay field in Nowhere, Idaho with a beautiful librarian, watching birds fly across the property – my property – and enjoying this exact moment in time. There were tragic and wonderful events that led me to this place, and the best way to honor my father, my mother, Elliot, Jodie, and all of the people that care about me is to be open and let it all in. I felt Jodie’s fingers intertwined with mine and I rolled over and kissed her again.

“Wild turkeys couldn’t drag me away.”

Crisis #9 Just Kidding

March 12, 2017
Last night, I finally made it home and headed out to the barn to see what I needed to do and hopefully let Elliot go home. As I walked around the corner of the barn, I said, “Sorry, Elliot, I got here as quickly as I could, but I …” and my eyes landed on the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. Her hair was trailing out of her pony tail, and her eyes drooped slightly, as she sat up on her bale of hay to stretch, yawn, and pull stray bits of straw from her clothes. She was gorgeous.
“Sorry, no Elliot. I’ll have to do for now.” I recovered enough to push one of the mugs towards her. “Oh, this is just what I wanted!” She tested the cocoa and took a long drink.
I glanced around the barn, and there were two fluffy kids nuzzling their mother, one of them still a little damp.
“The other babies are out in the loafing sheds with their moms. I think that about six or seven have freshened. I got here just in time for this one.” She pointed to a kid in the corner. “So far, all females but one.”
“That’s good, right?”
“That depends.” My brain was on overload, so I let that one go by.
“Okay, so what’s the plan?”
“Well, Elliot showed me the routine, shots and dip, etcetera, on the last one, so we can do it for the next one, as long as there aren’t any problems.” She got up, dusted off her pants, and grabbed a bottle from the top of the barn wall. “Want to help me dip him?”
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I went over to the kid and stood against the side opposite Jodie. She unscrewed the top off the bottle and pushed it over the kid’s umbilical cord.
“Did you cut the cord?”
“No, either it pulled loose or momma goat chewed it. But I got some clippers to do it if it’s needed.”
Her comment from a minute ago finally caught up with me. “What kind of problems?”
She screwed the lid onto the bottle and put in back on the shelf. “Well, ones we can deal with, just normal stuff like helping her or turning them. Anything we can’t do, we call Elliot or Sheila or the vet.”
I liked the sound of this “we” thing. “So, you’re staying?”
“Yeah, that was the plan. I asked for the morning off, so I’m good until Elliot can get back. I hope you don’t mind me inviting myself over. I figured you could use the help, unless you got this?” She handed me a rag, kept one for herself, and we rubbed the damp kid all over, as it continued to nurse its mother.
“Oh, God, of course not. We’re staying out here?”
“Well, we could, but you have a baby monitor.” She pointed to the monitor on a shelf behind me. She made no attempt to move, so I sat down and sipped my cocoa. We stared at the newborn kids.
“Does anybody look … ready?” One of the does, her belly pooched out like an overloaded pack mule, looked at me and chewed her cud in a blasé fashion.
“Elliot said there were a bunch in line, but no one is in labor right now. Believe me, you’d know.” She kneeled down, put her forehead on the mama goat. “I love that they have been handled so much.” She scratched the goat’s neck. “No, they’ll wait ‘til 3 a.m. when you’re dead asleep. Or they may not go at all tonight. Elliot says when they start coming, there’s not much of a lull, though.” She hopped up. “We can go in no, if you’re ready?”
I nodded.
Jodie flicked on a flashlight and pulled the chain on the barn light. In silence, we walked along the edges of the circle of light and into the house, then pulled off layers of farm clothes and boots and hung them up in the mud area.
“You hungry?” I started to open the fridge, afraid what I would find there.
“Starving. I brought some leftovers from my dad’s Elks meeting. I’ve learned to bring food when I come out here.” She shoved my arm with her elbow. I made a mental note to stock the fridge.
After dinner, I put on a movie for background noise, and we talked about my trip and local happenings for a while. She piled on the couch, legs shoved to the back middle, which left enough room for me to face her from the opposite side of the couch. The rest of the evening I felt this crazy mix of utter content and nervous longing. I am certain she picked up on my nervousness, not knowing whether to get up or stay put, so at one point she hopped up and grabbed a couple of blankets for us from my bed.
“I guess I should go to bed.”
“No, you’re fine.” She laid the blanket over me, and re-positioned herself on the couch and covered up with her blanket. I fell asleep moments later, dreaming about her sock-covered toes curling up against my shins.

March 18, 2013

I have been running non-stop between two new work projects, the regular farm stuff, and bringing numerous ovine lives into the world. Jodie has been over several times to help, and so far, there has been no trouble that she or Elliot (or even me a couple of times) could not work around. Sheila is back now, and she came over to look at the new recruits. She said she is always impressed by my dad’s and Elliot’s herd, “Now yours and Elliot’s,” she said. I don’t know why, but I actually did feel a little pride. It’s not like I had much at all to do with it, though.

March 19, 2013

Liv came by the other day and finally brought Frodo home. He smelled like a flower shop, but he did lick me and immediately curl up next to me on the couch.
Liv called him a traitor, jammed herself into the other corner of the couch, and folded her legs up. “Sorry it took me so long, we’ve been swamped. We’ve been meaning to get out here to help you with some of the house stuff.” She looked up at the ceiling and over to the loft where Nate sat when they were here last. We’ve been waiting for some warmer weather, too. It looks like we might be near the end of the bad stuff, at least in a couple of weeks. I’ve been thinking about it. I like avocado for that wall,” she pointed, “where the sunlight hits it, it would be beautiful. But you want to do neutral tones to increase the number of likely buyers.”
I stared into her face and raised an eyebrow.
“What?”
“Well …”
“Would it be the stupidest thing ever if I stayed?”
“You know, it may not be stupid. It would actually be really cool to have you close by. Can you handle all this?”
“Well, yes and no. I think I almost have my head out of my ass, but I know I can’t do it alone. Everything on the farm would be dead if it weren’t for Elliot and Sheila and Jodie.”
“Hmm. That name, Jodie, keeps coming up. What’s going on there?”
“I wish I knew. I have gone from enchanted to obsessed over her, or maybe the other way around. She doesn’t seem to mind being close to me, and she has been over here A LOT.”
“Sounds like she’s into you, too.”
“Well, I am picking up a vibe, but she is not making any moves, and I have put myself out there more than a few times.”
“Maybe she wants you to make the first move?”
“She’s pretty direct on everything else.”
“Does she talk about boyfriends, girlfriends?”
“Nope, not once. But I don’t really talk about Ton-ton or anybody else I’ve dated. I mean, she knows I’m gay, but that’s about it.”
“See, now that’s weird. She helps you with all the farm stuff, is over here all the time, and she never mentions past relationships. She has the hots for you.”
I burst out laughing at the prospect. “Well, there was this one night that we slept on the couch together.”
“This couch?” She looked down at the hallowed vessel. “Show me how. Like this?” She shoved her leg out and her toes into my crotch, sending Frodo to the floor with a questioning look.
“Har, har.” I shoved her foot off the edge of the couch. “No,” I scooted down and showed her. “Now, she was in a yin yang opposite me.
Liv wriggled into position and started rubbing my leg seductively with her foot. “Oh, Billie, I love having leg sex with you. You’re the best!”
I sat up and glared at her. “Have I mentioned that I truly hate you.”
“Many times.”
“Ugh.”
“Look, I wish I could live here with you and play farmer Sally, but I can’t. However, comma, I think you would be great at it, and I would love to come help sometimes. I don’t care if this Jodie chick is as clueless as she seems …” She made a circular motion with her hands. “At least from my point of view, Geez, don’t get your panties in a wad. But you have been more like yourself since you got here. I think you were getting bored with Seattle and school and stuff. I mean, why else would you end up with Ton-ton. Just sayin’. If you want to go back to Seattle, I will miss you, but I do like seeing you from time to time. Also, I will be happy to take Frodo back, permanently, if need be.” She snatched him up and stuck her nose to his while scratching his ears.
Dammit Liv. It’d be easier to take your advice if you weren’t always right.

March 21, 2013

Yesterday afternoon three does freshened, meaning they’ve delivered their kids. Two of them were in the barn of their own volition, as with most of the other does, but the last one bristled at the idea of giving birth around people. Elliot and I had to corral her into the barn and then close it off with a fence panel so she wouldn’t be out in the cold all night. Elliot and Sheila were there all afternoon, and Jodie joined us after work, just in time to see the last of a second set of twins pop out.
After the last baby was dipped, rubbed down, and suckling on its mother, we all sat around on bales of straw (not hay) and buckets, talking about the weather, Jodie’s kids at the library, and Sheila’s grandkids. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of one thing about my friends in Seattle that would be of any interest to any of them. I did tell them about my new “sister/niece” and my new stepfather. Harvey is starting to grow on me. Even Elliot, usually quiet in a group, told us about calling the veterinarian about a dog that was hit. It was over the weekend and she didn’t have any staff, so he went to the clinic and helped her set the bone. Just sitting around swapping stories was really cool.

I was actually sleeping in, when Bill called me this morning and asked to come over. He got another offer on the place, and he laid out a strategy for hay production based on potential buyers that I had not thought about. Just as he was about to walk out the door, he turned back and asked me if I’d read my dad’s journals yet. I told him Mom had not shared them with me, and I hadn’t asked, but he said he meant the ones here at the farm. My mind went back to my Dad’s bookcase in the bedroom. Yep, the older ones were all in there, except for his last one that was on his desk. Bill told me Dad didn’t mention them specifically because he wanted me to find them when I was ready to read them.
After Bill left I realized, I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I went to the desk and read the last few entries. Here is one of them:

Monday, 5 July 2012
I felt pretty good today 4 out of 5. Hotter than hell, though.
All last night I could see the light on at Elliot’s place. Whether that was trouble with his mother or all the fireworks blasting around triggering him, I don’t know, but he showed up this morning in a calm mood. I think Elliot is the strongest man I’ve ever met. If I’d gone through all that he has, I’d be a shambles. The loss of his father, bonding with his unit and losing them, all of them, the violence of war, and the injuries, so many that can’t even be seen – just one of these could cripple a lesser man. But Elliot survived with his moral compass intact. I keep encouraging him to reach out into the world, or at least to Emmett, both for his own good and because this area needs more people like him in it. He has saved my bacon more times than I can count, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to help him. I hope that wherever I land when I leave this world Elliot or my memories of him follow me there.

They always say you can’t miss what you never had, but I miss my dad sometimes like I’ve known him my whole life. Here’s the final passage:

Thursday, 4 October 2012
The cutting’s been done for about a week now, and I had to get out of this house. One thing I’ve learned, whenever I have so many thoughts buzzing around in my head that I cannot think, I need to walk the land. And that was true today. Even though I had to stop many times to catch my breath, and my bones ached like I was in an Iron Maiden, I still felt the same sense of peace I felt when I landed here back in 1992. The sun was kind and shone down upon my tired bones and somehow my muddled thoughts were clearer, too. I thought about all the people, animals, and even down to a delicious ripe pear, all of the beautiful things that have made this life a wonderful place for me. With the bright blue ceiling, the snow caps in the distance, and the verdant valley around me, it would not be hard to believe in a creator, if I were so inclined.
Elliot found me on the edge of the field and helped me back to the house. I wrote out some final instructions for my will and called Bill to get things set up. Even though our love affair has long since faded, I want Karen to know my love for her is eternal. There has been no time during my life that I would not have welcomed her with open arms, but, alas, the life of a farm wife was never one she wanted. I want Billie to know how much she means to me, and this farm is the only gift I have to give her now. Whether she keeps it or uses it to fulfill a dream of her own, I care not a whit. I have done my utmost to protect and aid my dear friend, Elliot, in recompense for his service and abject loyalty to an old curmudgeon, but all that I have been able to do is plant the seeds that I hope bring fruit to his moving beyond the scars that war has inflicted upon him. I can feel myself slide back into that other realm, the one where my thoughts turn dark and gratitude wanes. My grandest hope is that I spend as little time there as possible before moving on. I doubt there will be further entries in my journal, so so long. Or as our old friend Louis L’Amour says, “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.”

How do I process all this? As I sat at Dad’s desk, making an attempt, I saw Elliot through the window, carrying a bucket of water to our new second home, the goat barn. (By the way, the new pump works great.) I threw on my outside clothes and caught up with him trying to keep the goats from knocking the bucket over until he just gave up. “What’s today’s count?”
“44.” He grabbed a file he carried with him all the time, lifted a random goat hoof and filed on it for a minute or so.
“How many left?”
“5 or 6. A couple of ‘em’s stubborn. But we been lucky. A coupla puny ones, but they’ll live.” He started filing on another hoof.
“Elliot, are you doing okay?”
When he finished the hoof, he stood upright and looked at me. “You know, I think I’m getting better.”
We hadn’t had much time to talk since I came back from my trip. At least, there wasn’t a time I had felt comfortable asking him personal questions. “That’s great.”
“I been going in and helping that vet lady a coupla times a week. Doing trimming and large animal stuff she’d just as soon not bother with.” He looked intently at the herd in the middle of the pasture. Because of everything with his mom, I never questioned when he did or didn’t show up early in the morning. But that made sense. It was actually a relief that he was getting out into the world.
“That’s really cool!”
“You know, I been meanin’ to talk to you about that.” He paused. “She wants me to help her full time, but I been fightin’ back on it ‘cause of the kiddin’. I guess I’ll be having to cut back on stuff around here. Not everything, but a bit. No worries. I can set you up with the egg customers and I know a guy that can help out if you need him. He’s kind of a horse’s ass but he works good. And I’ll help you when the time comes to sell off the animals.”
I felt dizzy and thought I might pass out. Elliot had not gotten the memo that I was considering staying. Heavily considering staying. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to blurt out a million things at once, but instead, I swallowed hard and asked him more questions about the vet. As he spoke, I tried to calm my mind and step back from the situation, but all I could think was How can I make this work without Elliot? I had the sinking feeling that the answer was I can’t.
After he went home, and I finished up the chickens, I ate a bowl of stew, thinking back on all the meals I’d shared its Elliot and how that was already coming to an end. I checked the baby monitor, but nothing strange going on there. I turned on the TV, shoved a western into the VHS player, and curled up on the couch with Frodo. I fell asleep just as the bad guy rode into town.

Brief Interlude: Excerpt from Lookout Butte – Alex is Not Miss Cranky Pants in this One

Salutations! That’s my fancy way of saying, “Thank Goddess September is over!”

I hope everyone had a great Halloween. It is so good, though, to be out of October and into November. We have been working a few season end projects around the farm, and I am sore and tired. Unlike Kat, I am old, overweight, and tire easily.

I regret that I was unable to finish this week’s edition because work on the farm, like the next edition, has been labor intensive (that’s a pun for those paying attention). So, in my post today, I will present another excerpt from my novel, Lookout Butte, and resume with Chickenshit:Crisis #9 Just Kidding next week.

Hopefully, after a quick jaunt to Eugene in a few days to pick up organic chicken feed, I can settle into writing for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a huge goal to get 50,000 words written in one month as a first draft of a novel. I have never written that much in one month, but I have the highest hopes and know it will be an excellent start to my second novel in the Alex and Kat series.

Chris Hollaway from the Small Business Center in Ontario has organized a local NaNoWriMo group Western Treasure Valley NaNoWriMo. There are 20 events scheduled for participating writers to join over the course of the month. Thanks, Chris, for organizing this!

My NaNoWriMo name is AmyStinnett, unless I change it, if anyone would like to add me as a friend. I have yet to name the book series, but I do have a working title for the next book, Whippoorwill Springs.

Since the last excerpt showed Alex, the main character, in one of her weakest moments, I thought I would post one that reveals she has multiple layers. Also, this excerpt has one version of the dream that was referenced in the dream interpretation with local Indie author, Merri Halma. Without further ado …

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If anyone ever asked Alex where her favorite place was, she would tell them about an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and the summer she lived in New York City after her freshman year. A friend of her dad’s had a daughter who was out of town all summer. She was studying abroad in Madrid and needed a house sitter for her tiny apartment. Alex had scraped together the cost of a membership to MoMA from her first paycheck at her new part time job at a coffee house. The museum became a fixation for her. She would go there every day she could, sketch in her notebook, and admire the paintings. Her parents came down and took her out for dinner and a show a few times, but MoMA held the lasting impression from that summer.

But the truth was, her favorite place was much less artsy and much closer at hand. After exploring parks around Atlanta over her first two years there, she found a hiking trail near Abbott’s Bridge in the Chattahoochee River National Wildlife Area. With time on her hands, Alex headed there now. She left her car in the recreation area parking lot and followed a paved trail a short distance before it ended in a densely wooded spot. Instead of turning back, though, she picked out a small trail used by animals and followed it until the trail was no longer visible. In just a few minutes, she found herself in a small meadow that was as private as a penthouse suite. The river was within earshot, and, in the many times she had been there, the most human contact she had experienced was a flash of color when someone had skirted the edge of the meadow and headed down the river bank to fish. Other than the odd deer or dragonfly, this space was hers and hers alone. The sky was usually bright blue, but even on colder, gustier days, this room-that-was-a-view was well-protected by thick woods on all sides. When a chance downpour hit, she would find shelter under the trees and revel in the splash of water on leaf and puddle.

Today, Alex spread out a blanket in a semi-shady spot near the west side of the field and took a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird out of her bag. The sun felt great, but she had to be careful and lie mostly in the shade. She learned her first year in Atlanta, with painful consequences, that her skin required lots of sunscreen and long sleeves and pants to keep from burning. Still, the sun’s warmth lulled her into a blissful state, and she never opened the book.

Alex’s thoughts flitted from her new job to Kat, to her parents and random memories. At about 6:30, she jolted awake, slightly chilled because the sun, though far from setting, was now obscured by trees. Her mind was still fuzzy as she sensed a warm glow floating in the air nearby, as a dream, one she had experienced many times, swelled and broke like a wave over her conscious mind.

She is still a child and lying under the Christmas tree, looking up through the branches at the ceiling, to her parents who are sitting on the couch, then to her brother in the chair next to them. “I’m not a child,” he repeats, periodically. She feels strange, like she has overheard something she shouldn’t have because she is hidden, so she slides out from under the tree. As she starts to stand up, she feels herself growing taller. First, a little taller than her mom. Then, she takes a breath to say something to get her family’s attention, but they are looking at the Christmas presents and don’t see her. When she lets out the breath, she grows taller than the Christmas tree. She takes another breath and looks down at her family. “Hey, Goober,” says Shawn, “open my present.” He is looking up at her but doesn’t react to her size change at all. She exhales again, and she grows so large that when she stands up fully, she bursts through the roof, where a torrent of sleet and snow blasts past her and down into the house. She stretches her arms out to keep the weather from hitting her family. Even though the tempest whirls around them, her family is still opening presents, unaware of everything. She sees smoke coming from the neighbor’s chimney, and she wakes up with the feeling that no one except her knows anything strange is happening.

Alex sat in her meadow, dazed for a moment, watching a lightning bug crawl across her leg. It reached a corner of fabric on her knee, spread its wings, and flew away. Alex saw the faint glow of its light, as it reached the high grass near the woods and disappeared. She felt a strange and unnamable tug inside, gathered up the blanket, and headed back to her car. She checked her phone to find a text from Kat. Crap! She had mixed up Kat’s days off! She loaded the blanket into the trunk, sent Kat a quick response, and headed for home.