Friday Fiction: "Zeke"

Check out My Heart's Dee-light for more good fiction. This is a peek at my novel, A Home for Phoebe that is now being reviewed by an agent. (Sorry, it's so long, but I had a hard time figuring out how much to!)


Even though the rain had stopped, the world was still wet. Ginger’s feet slipped on stones loosened by the day’s rain. Maseppa pulled hard on the brake lever to keep the wagon from sliding into the horse. Down, down the long muddy hill they slipped and skidded, until the road... and Ginger... took a sharp turn, but the wagon didn’t.

The right rear wheels just sank over the edge of the road into the deep sticky mud. The wagon tilted with a jerk and Phoebe screamed as she grabbed for Maseppa. Lolly lost her footing and, being tied to the wagon, pulled it down with her on its side. Ginger whinnied as she tried to keep herself from being dragged along too. For a few minutes, their world became a jumble of bushes, a mooing cow, a frightened horse, and a cracking wagon.

As things quieted and settled, Maseppa accessed the damage. She quickly untied the animals, rubbing her hands along their legs and sides. They seemed to be fine, only skittish with fright and a few scratches here and there.

Phoebe crawled out of the tall grasses and bushes. Her hair was mussed and she was covered with mud. She gave Maseppa a dirty smile.

Maseppa then examined the buckboard. A shaft had snapped and one wheel had broken from the axle. Maybe she could right the wagon with the help of the horse, but Maseppa had no idea how repair the wheel.

Things certainly were a mess, but no one was hurt. In the dim twilight, they began gathering the scattered bundles and utensils. They wouldn’t be able to go any farther tonight, so Maseppa searched for a place to camp.

Farther down the embankment, she found a huge spruce tree near a gurgling stream. Beneath its protecting branches, Maseppa prepared a soft bed. Using the salvaged coals, she soon had a fire crackling and supper boiling in a pot.

Maseppa tied the animals nearby and rubbed their bruised muscles with warm water. She tied a poultice on a small cut on Ginger’s leg.

After Phoebe was scrubbed clean in the cold stream, she sat on a log with a woolen blanket wrapped around her. All you could see was her eyes reflecting the dancing firelight.

“Are we going to sleep here? Does this stream go near our house? Is Papa and Mama going to sleep under the tree, too?”

“You ask many questions,” said Maseppa.

The night closed around them. Crickets chirped and night birds called their mates. The bright moon climbed above the tallest trees, and ever present was the soft whispering of the stream. Just as Phoebe’s eyes blinked in sleepiness, a shout echoed from above them near the road.

“Halloo! Is there anyone down there? Is anyone hurt?”

Phoebe jumped from her log bench. “We’re down here! We’re living under the trees!”

“Piz├án …sh-sh,” Maseppa warned, but it was too late.

A tall, thin man came crashing through the brush towards their fire. He had a floppy hat and a gray coat, whose sleeves seemed much too short for his arms. He took his hat from his head and bowed low to them. His eyes sparkled and his mustache twitched and he seemed as tall as their old weather vane on the top of the barn.
“Well, good evenin’, ladies. I reckoned some’un was in trouble, with those tracks all over the road up there. Are y’all doin’ fine?” He bent over and peered into Phoebe’s blue eyes. “Well, what a purty l’il angel!”

Phoebe giggled.

Maseppa grunted and stepped close protectively. “We be fine.”

“I won’ hurt no ‘un. I just want t’ help. M’name is Zeke. I’m a peddlah. I ramble from here to there sellin’ kettles an’ such.”

As he spoke, he looked about. He noticed the makeshift bed beneath the branches and the meager supply of utensils and food. “It looks like you’re down on your luck just now. I can help you. I have a wagon full of anything you could want. In fact, I know just what this place needs!”

With that he disappeared as quickly as he had come.

“He talk too much,” Maseppa muttered.

She stirred the fire and added another stick. Phoebe sat back on her log and watched her stir the soup, but listened for the stranger to return.

Zeke returned down the hill, whistling and carrying a lantern. Phoebe and Maseppa watched his progress in silence. As he entered the circle of firelight, they saw his arms were full.

“I was a wonderin’ what to do with these. No one seems to want t’ buy ‘em.”
He unfolded a large canvas tarpaulin which he staked two of its edges to the ground and tied the other corners to the surrounding trees, creating a warm protective wind barrier.

“Where you ladies from? Ya plannin’ to settle in the area?”

He didn’t seem to need an answer; he chattered without a pause as he worked. With a clatter and a thunk, he assembled a few hinged slats of wood into a convenient little table. Maseppa and Phoebe watched in silence. He now opened a square pasteboard box.

“These were made by my pa just for someone like you.” With that, he lifted some soft leather boots from a box and fitted them on Phoebe’s feet.

“No, I not have money!” Maseppa protested.

“I’m giv’m to you. I want to help. This purty angel needs someth’un to keep her tiny toes warm, with winter comin’ an’ all.” With a grin beneath his bushy mustache that was as wide as his face, he bowed again. “An now, for my bes’ gift…”

He opened a small case and drew out a fiddle. The end curled like a young fern in the springtime. The firelight light reflected on its smooth sides. After a few tuning notes, the air exploded with a trill of melodies that echoed in the hills.
Phoebe never heard anything like it. She clapped and then twirled in the firelight to the rollicking, singing fiddle. Zeke played and Phoebe danced until the coals grew dim. He then played a slow lonesome song, and Phoebe cuddled close to Maseppa. Her eyes drooped into sleep.

After tucking Phoebe under the warm blankets, Maseppa returned to the fire. ”I not buy with money, but I have food.” She gestured to the soup.

“I was a wonderin’ what smelled so good. Thank ye much. I can make music, but my cookin’ ain’t so much to talk about.”

He stretched out his long legs and stoked the dying coals. “It ain’t my business, but I can see you could use some help. When the sun’s up tomorrow, I’ll take a look-see at your wagon. Could be you might need a whole new axle.”

At the thought that he might spend the whole night with them, Maseppa stiffened in fear. “You go. We be fine.”

Zeke quickly assured her, “Oh, I’ve got my own house on wheels, up beside the road. It’s got a bed, stove, an’ everything I need. I didn’ mean to be presumin’ on you. Thank ye for the tasty supper. I’ll be mosyin’ along and look at things in the mornin’.” With another sweep of his floppy hat and a deep bow, he was off again, the lantern lighting the way.

Maseppa’s sharp eyes followed his departure. She turned and made a frown. The fiddle case lay beside the log where he sat. She picked it up and turned as if to call to him back, but didn’t.

She sat on the log, near the glowing coals, and placed it across her knees. After staring at the box for awhile and glancing into the darkness, she gingerly opened the clasps. Opening the lid, she looked at the wooden instrument and ran her long fingers over its curvy design. The roughness of her work-worn hands rubbed one of the strings. It sang! She jumped, and it fell to the ground. In fear, she quickly closed it and placed it away from her.

Maseppa didn’t sleep much that night. She sat many hours by the fire, listening to the night sounds, and glancing toward the road occasionally. She looked up at the stars and the moon. She felt so small and helpless.

"Should I trust this man? I not fix the wagon. I not want anyone take Phoebe away from me. I promise Martha I keep her. I not know what to do"


Scarlet Carter(S.Harricharan) said...

Oooh! I remember this. Lovely! You capture the setting and the dialouge soooo well! I really liked the closing with Maseppa's thoughts though, it added a touch more to her situation, etc. Very fun to read! ^_^

Lydia said...

This is great, Mama! Can't wait to read the rest!

The Surrendered Scribe said...

Yay, Phoebe is back! You just put me right there, the setting is perfect.

Praying you hear back from the agent soon!!

LauraLee Shaw said...

Amazing, incredible!!!! DEfinitely your genre! Great job, Yvonne!

Betsy Markman said...

You make us care about the characters in a very short time.

Thanks for sharing this.

Dee Yoder said...

This is wonderful, Vonnie! I hope you hear back from your agent very soon. This is an incredible story...but I don't want to read anymore until I can hold it on my book form!


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