Tuesday, November 24, 2009

HISSMELINA, chapter section

I may write in detail about my novel, HISSMELINA. I've carried the book around, in one form or another, for many years. Through all of my agents--from Richard Curtis to Brendan Deneen.

The book nearly sold a couple of times, but never quite made it through to publication. And that's not counting one small press that accepted the book and then went broke before it could be scheduled.

Three times I've taken the book out of the cobwebs and rewritten it. Some things change a bit, others not at all.

Here's a section of a chapter from that book:


Wepner arrived on the scene a long half-hour before Venson Day had a chance to speed the distance between Elijah and the construction job he was working in Jasper. The lawman was happy for that fact on one hand, but it caused him a bit of a problem on the other. From the instant he arrived, it was a full ten minutes before he could calm the hysterical Mrs. Day enough to get the story out of her. Finally, with much difficulty and a complete taxing of his bullish patience, he got her to sit still long enough to give him an idea of what was going on. Between sharp gasps, she told him that her baby was missing—gone!

Chief Wepner took Kathleen’s damp hand in his plump, rough ones, then patted her kerchief-tied head. “You just sit tight Miz Day. Sit tight right here. Venson’ll be here soon and I’m gone have a quick look around th’ place an’ see if I can find Pat.”

“But I already looked everywhere,” she gasped, eyes held wide. “I even checked th’ hay loft! Little Pat cain’t climb no hay loft!” She began, again, to hyperventilate.

“Miz Day! Kathleen!” Her eyed locked on his. “Now you calm down some. He cain’t have got far. I’m gone go out an’ look around right quick an’ see what I can see. Okay?” He took her silence as an affirmation and lifted his bulk up from the kneeling position he was in. Kathleen said nothing as he went out, not even when a small clod of dried clay dislodged from his boot to fall upon the carpet.

Outside, Wepner gazed about the empty back yard. Not quite empty. He went over the to hound and looked down at it. There was a little pool of gelid blood in font of its snout. He toed the animal with the hard tip of his right shoe. It was most certainly dead. He bent closer, hands on his knees for a better look. It was a good-looking hound; if he knew Venson Day, the man owned only the best dogs.

Puzzling that such a stout, young animal would just up and die like that. With his right hand, he nudged it a bit, looking for some mark or wound. There was nothing. No wonder Kathleen had flown off the handle.

Straightening, he looked about. There was a small gap in the fence, but it didn’t look wide enough for even a small child to have squeezed through. Beyond that there was only more lawn that gave way to pasture. Surely the mother would have been able to spot the youngster if he had toddled out that way. He turned around. The forest seemed dark, vaguely menacing. Leaning in the direction of the woods, the thought of poking about in there suddenly seemed not so wise. There was a dense tangle of brittle blackberry bushes, thorny and dry in their pre-winter death. Pines grew thickly, making deep shadows. Better to just go back into the house and wait for Venson to get there.

Wepner took a step toward the house, ready to go back inside the warm walls and sit with the frightened woman. He thought of Kathleen cringing in the chair in which he’d left her and realized that he was somehow frightened of the woods. Frightened! Of what? Again, he turned for the line of trees that lay beyond the fence. His steps were heavy and ponderous; his keys jangled metallically at every step. Putting his hand to his holster, he unbuttoned the stiff flap that held down the .357 magnum. He had it loaded with 158-grain semi-jacketed hard point; the ammo could pierce just about anything and made a nasty wound. Thinking of that, he felt better.

At the fence, he placed his hands upon the nearest support and hefted his leg. With a grunt, he braced his weight and stepped up. The fence bent beneath his two hundred and seventy pounds, but it did not buckle. After a clumsy pirouette, he was over, landing solidly on the other side. He squinted, peering suspiciously into the shadows.

Nothing stirred.

Moving up to the thicket, he pushed forward, picking his way through the thorny stuff. If it had been summer time, he would not have dared tramping through. But it was nearing cold weather and the blackberry bushes were all dead, snapping off where before they would have bent resiliently and snagged at his flesh. Too, they would have been full of snakes.Warily, he picked his way through the mess.

Beyond the thicket and its barrier or thorns, the forest was clearer, easier to walk through. It had been twenty or thirty years since the timber had been felled, and new trees had grown up everywhere—pines where they had been planted, oaks and poplar where they had sprung up, mongrel-wise. He reached out with his left hand and pushed aside needle-y branches that blocked his view. Carefully, he stalked through the rows of pines, trying to avoid treading on dry limbs that would snap and give him away. His eyes swept about, searching for some sign, some movement. There was nothing.

The land swept up form the fence, climbing in a slope that became steeper as it approached the flanks of the nearby mountains. Wepner moved up the incline, treading slowly, searching. At his feet, he saw where the carpeting of pine needles had been disturbed as if something had been dragged. The trail went in a straight line, farther up the hill. He followed it till it met with a wide expanse of worn granite. Continuing, he went across the twenty feet of pocked stone, crunching dry lichen beneath his shoes.

He looked down. There, in the forest floor of dead and gray hued needles of former seasons, was a flattened space of perhaps five feet square, where something had lain. In the center of the spot were several tiny drops of crimson. Blood. The trail halted there. Nothing led away.

Wepner’s head jerked up, scanning the nearby area. He stared into the dappled forest that seemed to close in all around him. Squinting, he tired to spy into the shadows beneath the trees. The forest looked back. He felt it.

Again, he gazed down at the spots of blood. There was no doubt that it was blood. Four or five little dollops of red shone back. The wind blew, sighing through the pines that surrounded him. Straining, he listened for the sound of something that might be watching, ready to pounce. He was afraid; his hand went for the .357, feeling the hard lines of it against his waist.

He thought. Nothing had dragged the child into the woods to this place. This was nothing more than the spot where Venson’s hound had brought a rabbit and killed and eaten it, leaving a tiny sign of its meal. Or the animal had been stricken with some brain seizure and bled a few drops before staggering back to the yard. That was all that had happened. No need to stir up a panic over nothing. Eagerly, he left the place and went back to the house to await the arrival of Mrs. Day’s husband.

But, before he did, he made sure to scuff his big feet about in the pine straw until there was no sign that something had lain there. Until the little drops of blood were gone as if they had never been.

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