In case you missed it on Twitter (I haven’t posted it on FaceBook, because Mom), I lost my job on Friday. The company, which I love dearly in both cause and environment, swapped hands, and the new owners felt the need to downsize aggressively (IMO a destructive decision when it came to customer service). We thought they were finished. Apparently they were not.
This means two things: I will have more time to finish Phoenix Rising – Yay! – but it also means that I have to focus on finding another job which might now have as much downtime (or any) as my previous position. It also means I will have to scrounge longer in order to afford editing services. So I may get finished faster, but it may not be published as quickly. We will see.
I just thank God that the book cover has already been completed, for the FREE Calibre eBook formatting program, and my brother (other brother, not my cover illustrator) formats my books for physical printing pro bono.
No, seriously, y’all, I thank God. And them.
And didn’t I promise y’all a sample? I think I did…
Jed killed the rabbit. He snatched it from Thatch’s hands and twisted its head right off. Thatch’s stomach lurched. Judy gaped as he handed the limp body to her. The head left a trail of blood across the kitchen floor as Jed carried it to the trash can. Thatch was afraid he was going to be sick, or worse, cry. (Last time he cried outside of the bedroom, his uncle cuffed him and said he would show him a man. Thatch found this amusing, since his manhood was now about as big as his uncle’s).
Thatch swallowed the vomit that rose in his throat and held his breath until he was out the back door. He should have known better than to bring the thing in in the first place. He just wanted something to show his mom, to make her talk to him. He should have known it would end up as soup.
“Where you goin’ so fast, boy?”
“I need to clip Archie,” Thatch muttered as he stumbled down the porch stairs.
Jed snickered. Thatch’s chest was tight. He could feel his uncle’s eyes on his back until he turned into the stable.
Archie nickered and threw his head when he recognized his human. Thatch pulled him out and focused on each step of saddling him to distract him from the lump in his throat. On most days, he could complete the process without even thinking about it, in quick, mechanical motions. Today he took his time. Archie shook his head impatiently, nudging Thatch’s face and shoulders whenever he was within reach.
“Stop it,” he scolded, pushing on his nose. “Stop trying to cheer me up.” But he could not help but smile. His tight throat loosened.
Archie side-stepped defiantly, knocking the boy to the ground. Thatch laughed, but choked on it. He glanced at each entrance as he stood and brushed himself off. Finding themselves alone except for the other horses, watching enviously, Thatch took the harness and pressed his forehead to Archie’s nose. His hugged the horse’s neck and allowed himself to giggle. But the levity was short-lived; His giggles turned to heaving breaths and sniffles.
Swallowing, Thatch tightened all the straps, climbed on a nearby railing, and pulled himself up into the saddle. As soon as Archie was free of the stable door, Thatch clicked his tongue twice. Archie flew into a gallop.
The urge to cry faded as Thatch focused on his footing and the ground sloping ahead of them. He didn’t rein Archie at all; He didn’t need to. Although he would have allowed the horse to wander anywhere he wished, he knew where the boy wanted to go. He galloped across the property, over half a mile, until they reached the fence. Archie cantered along the perimeter until they both heard it: A drift of distant music, rock ‘n’ roll blaring from a neighboring property.
Flint Ranch didn’t have a TV or radio. The only music Thatch had been exposed to was at school, and in stores the few times he had gone into town. A few months ago, Jed was out on business, and Virgil Roanhorse, his senior ranch hand, let Thatch accompany him and his daughter on a trip into town. The oddest-sounding music was coming from the radio. Virgil called it Ziggy Stardust. Thatch held his breath as he listened to the words. They had tugged at something bittersweet in his chest, something he ached for once it had gone.
When Thatch had first heard the music through the woods, although it was very different, not as melodious, he felt the tug in his chest again. Music was not forbidden at Flint Ranch, but riding out to listen to it felt like an act of rebellion, since Jed enjoyed destroying everything that made him smile. Thatch imagined him going to the neighbors and burning down their house, or at least threatening them if they don’t turn down the music.
At the same time, the music and this small act of defiance was a small source of rare pleasure. Thatch found the point at which the music was clearest and dismounted. He reached into the saddlebag and pulled out an old, tattered copy of Huckleberry Finn. He laid down on the grass with an arm behind his head, only to have Archie attempt to lie on top of him. Laughing, he leaned and scooted, making the horse his pillow.
Clouds drifted across the clear, blue sky. Music drifted through the trees. Thatch cracked open the book and drifted down the Mississippi River with a large Black man, both escapees.
For a couple of hours, at least, his pain was far away.