Friday Fiction "The Decision"

Today is Friday Fiction!
For lots of good stories, go to An Open Book . Be sure to leave a comment and your name on Mr. Linky if have a story to share with us, too.

This is an excerpt from my novel A Home for Phoebe. I hope you enjoy it.

The Decsion

On the other side of the pine woods, Josh was having his own problems. He and his father had been working since daybreak at the blacksmith shop, trying to keep up with all the fall orders and repairs. A fence had broken, and the cows had wandered into the woods. It was past suppertime before they found them all, and he still had to shovel the stalls.

Why do I always have to be the one to do the tough jobs? I was already working like a man when I was Andrew’s age. He gets to stay home all day, milking the silly cows and toting wood."It’s just not fair! "

As they ate their overcooked supper, his mother sat and chatted with them about the day. Josh took a gulp of water and cleared his throat.

“Papa, Mama, I want to go to college. I want to teach.”

He scooped a potato on his spoon, but put it back down. He didn’t feel hungry anymore.
His mother clinked her teacup in the saucer. His father sighed.

“Joshua, your ma and I knew this day would come sometime. You are a good worker and obedient son, but we know that your heart isn’t set on being a smithy. I was hoping you’d stay on for awhile until Andrew is strong enough to help me and the little ones can help around the barn. You’re old enough to know your own mind, but I’m asking you to think on it a ways.”

Josh nodded.

His father laid his hand on Josh’s shoulder before going out to check on the stock. “I’ll do the horses’ stalls,” he said.

Josh felt guilty. His father had worked hard all day, too.

“The Nickels children are down with the croup,” his mother said softly. “I was hoping to send over some bread and preserves, but you can do it tomorrow.”

“I’ll do it tonight,” he replied. “I feel like taking a walk by myself and do a bit of thinking, anyway.”

His mother smiled and kissed the top of his head. “Don’t be out too late. You need your rest.”
“Yes, ma’am. I won’t be long.”

The sun had dropped behind the trees by the time he sauntered into town. The silhouette of the church steeple stood sentry in the lingering glow. Black clouds slinked in from the west, reaching gnarly fingers across the moon. The wind whispered in the dark pines and whipped the slender saplings. Josh pulled his cap down tighter on his head and hunched his shoulders.

Mrs. Nickels very much appreciated the kind gesture and chatted for a few minutes at the door, probably glad for someone to talk to after being cooped up indoors with her sick youngsters. The dark street seemed blacker than usual against the lighted windows. Josh quickened his steps to a trot.

As he passed the last shop, he met Tom Mitchell and a group of his buddies. Even when Josh attended school with them, he avoided any association with their devious escapades. The boys laughed loudly and jostled against each other.

“Did ya hear them hollerin?” slurred Tom, with his unruly red hair refusing to be tamed by hat or cord.

“Serves ‘em right, the thiev’n Injuns,” said another, as he shook a bag of coins. “Injuns don’t need money!”

“Bet they won’t show up aroun’ here fer a long time.”

“If’n they do, we’ll give it to’em again!” He took a swig and laughed.

Josh stepped nearer. “What’d you do? Who are you talking about?”

“Look who’s sneakin’ aroun’ in the dark, fellers.”

“Maybe he was off to visit his Injun friends.”

“Do you know what we do to Injun lovers, Boy?”

Josh’s heart pounded, as they formed a circle, but he didn’t speak.

Tom’s face twisted with scorn. “Injuns killed my grandpa. I hate Injuns! And I hate you!”

Joshua swallowed hard. He nervously looked from one to another.

“If’n you don’ watch it, you’ll be in worse shape than those Injuns!” The drunk boy lifted his fist threatenly.

Joshua didn’t flinch, but his mind screamed, What have they’ve done to Maseppa and Phoebe? I’ve got to get help! He took a step back, ready to run home and get Pa.

“Oh no, you don’t!” yelled Tom. “Let him have it, fellers!”

Josh felt one twist his arm and another wrap himself around his neck. Even if he wanted to fight back, he couldn’t. He lost count of the blows to his face and stomach when someone hollered at the hoodlums. He couldn’t see for the swelling around his eyes, but heard Mister Crandall muttering. He led Josh inside, sat him on a chair, and bathed his face with cool water.

I’ve got to get help! his mind repeated. “They’ve hurt Maseppa and Phoebe! Get my Pa, Mister Crandall!”

“I’ve sent word to your folks. I’m sure he’s on his way, Boy.”

Within minutes, there were a half dozen men in the Crandall kitchen. Some wanted to go fetch Tom Mitchell and his pals, but Aratus convinced them to follow him to the pond where he knew Maseppa parked her wagon.

The men marched with righteous anger, facing the unknown evil with only the light of their lanterns. With shock and shame, they stopped when they saw the upturned wagon. The smell of smoke and scorched paint hung in the air. Phoebe voice echoed in the woods, calling the frightened horse. Butch howled along with her. Maseppa was gathering the buckets and things, kicked and scattered by the drunken boys.

Aratus led the men in righting the heavy vehicle, using their work-toughened backs, arms, and legs. Thankfully, the axles and wheels were not broken in the soft, sandy soil. After apologizing for the despicable behavior of their town’s youth, they paraded back to town, complaining of the rebellious nature of children today.

Aratus asked Maseppa, “Why don’t you and Phoebe stay at our house tonight. We have plenty of room.”

“We be fine, thank you.”

“Are you sure?”

Maseppa nodded, and he left, too.

The voices were gone. The lights were gone. They were alone. The air was cold. There was no choice but to sleep outside beneath the stars. Phoebe couldn’t sleep. Her heart still pounded with the memory.

She could still hear the loud shouts and feel the shaking wagon. Maseppa barred the door, but she hadn’t felt safe. She could still hear Butch barking…barking, until he stopped with a yelp. Phoebe could still hear herself screaming as everything tumbled about her! She could still hear Maseppa telling her to climb out the little window. The oil lamp had broken and flames were spreading into the dry herbs and baskets! She still saw Maseppa slapping the flames with a blanket.

Crawling through the tiny window, she ran around and pounded and pulled on the locked door. Smoke seeped through every crack. Soon Phoebe heard coughing and fumbling from inside the wagon. The door flopped open, and Maseppa stumbled through the chaos, covered in soot. Her sleeves and the hem of her skirt were charred.

For a few moments, they just stood there, the wind whipping their hair and skirts as they embraced. The laughing, rough voices were gone, but peace had not returned.

“Get water, Phoebe.”

She saw Maseppa brushing her ankles and feet with the edge of the blanket. Realizing that Maseppa’s legs were burned, Phoebe flew down the path to fill the empty bucket. Maseppa took the water and splashed it into the blackened wagon. Again and again she sent Phoebe for more. Finally, the last of the embers died. Maseppa collapsed.

Phoebe sobbed as she lovingly wrapped Maseppa’s ankles in cool, wet cloths, easing the pain. “Maseppa, I couldn’t get you out! I didn’t want you to die!” she cried. “I love you, Maseppa. I need you!”

Maseppa sent Phoebe to find the horse, and she began gathering the scattered things. The lights came. The men came. The wagon was righted, and things felt better. They weren’t alone; Aratus and Anna would always be good friends.

The winds calmed and the night was quiet again, but Phoebe couldn’t sleep. Butch snuggled close, and whimpered in his dreams. She looked up at the moon. Even though the clouds raced across its face, the familiar light comforted her. Like Maseppa, no matter where they were, no matter what happened, it was always there.

Hearing a strange sound, she turned her head. Was Maseppa crying? Maseppa never cries… never! She even frowns at me for crying.

Phoebe pulled her blanket closer to Maseppa. The faint sobbing stopped, but the breaths still came in shaky whispers. Phoebe put her arm across Maseppa’s back until she lay calm and still.
Maseppa body may have been quiet, but her thoughts were still troubled. Why I cry? It not help me.

She could almost hear Granny’s voice saying “Things are never as bad as you think. Count your blessings, child.”

I not hurt... Phoebe not hurt... Wagon not broke… It not raining ... It not winter…

With her mind calming, she could hear Granny quoting her Bible, “Be still and know that I am God.’ ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ ‘Be not afraid.’ ‘I will shelter thee under my wings.’ ‘All things work together for good.’ ‘I will be your Father and you will be my child.”
Jesus God, I not belong to white people; I not belong to Algonkin. I want to belong to you. She had been stubborn and wanted to go her own way. She remembered the story of the lost sheep. Jesus God, I feel lost and afraid. I hear you call me in my head. I want you to be my shepherd. I be tired of walking in my own trail. I follow your trail now.

Peace, like a healing balm, soothed her troubled mind. 'I know what I do; it be time to take Phoebe home. It not be right to always leave when things not be good. There always be things that not be good. I not be afraid of people. Jesus God, make me be strong. It time to go back. It be good place for Phoebe and me.'

With that decision made, she fell asleep under a star-bright sky, the crickets chirping, and a soft breeze rustling through the trees.


Sharlyn Guthrie said...

Fascinating story! Makes me want to read more.

LauraLee Shaw said...

I love this salvation story. GREAT story!

Joanne Sher said...

Wonderful descriptions and so engaging. Wonderful.

Sherri Ward said...

Well-written, Vonnie! I will keep tuned if there is more!


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