Saturday, January 02, 2016

Sample Saturday: The Zion Trail

Welcome to Sample Saturday. This scene is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel, The Zion Trail, which will be available in ebook format early next year. The Marshall family has been away from their farm for several days to attend a church service. Caution: Mormon beliefs are briefly discussed in this excerpt.

When we crested the ridge and entered our valley, the air held a smoky bite. It was like stepping into a smokehouse. I wondered what had occurred in our absence, and I knew Pa was on the alert.

Then, as we passed Jeremiah Rommel's farmstead, the man stepped into the road and called to Pa.

“There's trouble, James,” he said in his thick German accent.

Pa pulled up the horses, and Mr. Rommel came to Pa's side of the wagon and motioned him to descend. They walked off a few paces, so I didn't hear what they discussed, but Pa's sudden cry of “What?” rang in my memory for weeks afterwards.

The previous day, masked marauders appeared as Mr. Rommel slopped our hogs at dusk, hogs we had planned to butcher soon. The raiders shot the hogs, killed the chickens, pushed Mr. Rommel into a ditch, then fired the barn. Fired the barn! I imagined the frantic lowing of the cows as they shoved against the confining walls of the stalls, slowly choking on the thick smoke of the burning corn and wheat, and finally roasting to death in the conflagration.

How can I tell of the sorrow, of the overwhelming loss? I cannot bear to recount it. The only glimmer of light amid the smoky pall of destruction was the contents of the root cellar. And yet, we could not survive on vegetables alone. Without the hog meat, the chickens and eggs, the milk and occasional beef, we would starve.

That appeared to be the intention of our foes. There was no credit to be had at the mercantile establishments. We had no surplus foodstuffs to trade for implements to replace the plowshares, hoes, harrows, and other equipment lost in the fire. Harnesses, rope, buckets, barrels, feed—all was gone, and we were left no way to get more.

Pa and I tried to hire ourselves out for any work we could feasibly do. No one with jobs available wanted a Mormon or two working on their place.

On one particularly discouraging day, I reminded my father of the story of young Nephi, who, when his bow lost its spring and his family similarly faced starvation, turned to God for enlightenment. Pa went still for several moments, his face taking on a solemn aspect, and then he agreed that we must use all powers at our disposal. His hand on my shoulder was more praise than words could have said.

We fasted—of necessity, but also with faith and prayer—to find answers to our critical lack of food. Pa finally resorted to using kitchen implements to melt down the pewter candlesticks for shot, while I begged the neighbors for chicken dung so we could manufacture gunpowder. When we had gathered a meager store of both, he and I went hunting, stressed almost to the breaking point by the knowledge that every shot must count. In that manner, I learned to be a marksman.

Using our utmost ingenuity, we crafted snares, and trapped foxes and smaller fur-bearing animals. When we could find no buyers for the skins, we used them to clothe ourselves.

I shot a deer, and Pa brought down a fat bear that had become a neighborhood nuisance from visiting folks' garbage pits. With the meat portioned out on a strict schedule, we hoped to keep our bodies and souls together until spring.

Thank you for visiting. The Zion Trail will be published early in 2016 as an ebook, and if there is sufficient demand, in print. * To keep up-to-date on when The Zion Trail will be published, along with other new releases, and to learn of special offers and sales, click here to join my Readers email list. In your inbox, you will also receive instructions on how to download a free ebook of my last novel, Gone for a Soldier.

* Contact me using the Contact Form at the right to indicate your desire to purchase The Zion Trail as a print book.

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