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RED RUN FARM

Here’s a sample from the first chapter of my next book, RED RUN FARM. It is October, 1918, and 12-year-old Katie Archer and her 5-year-old sister, Lillie, have been picking apples in the orchard of the Archer farm. Nearby, their father is in his makeshift shop, working on his invention of a super-fuel that he is convinced will revolutionize the automobile industry. 

 Katie reached to shake one of the low-hanging branches to loosen the last of its fruit. Just then she heard Papa yell above the motor’s throbbing beat, “Come here, everybody. Come quick!”

 She waited while Lillie scooped up her kitten, then the two of them went racing down through the orchard toward the shed. Out of breath, they burst through the door and found Papa dancing around his workbench, his eyes glistening and his mustache bristling with excitement. 

He seized each of them by the arm, pulled them closer to where the engine was rumbling away, each revolution fiercer than the last. “Lillie…Katie…look here.” He pointed to the gauge where the needle was quivering its way upward, fraction-by-fraction through the black numbers. Snowflake, terrified by the noise, leaped from Lillie’s arms and scooted into the farthest corner to hide behind a box of tools. By then, the entire building was shaking with vibrations so fierce Kate could feel them through the soles of her shoes and the engine’s exhaust fumes made it hard to take deep breaths.

 She wasn’t exactly sure what she was supposed to be seeing. When the needle gave one final shudder and inched onto the red, Papa began leaping about like a madman. “By Jimminy, girls, I’ve done it. When they write the history books, Roy Holmes Archer will be right up there with Ford…Edison…all the rest of those big-time inventors.” The look on Papa’s face at that moment reminded Kate of the one Preacher Morrissey wore when he described what heaven would be like.

“You’re happy, Papa?” Lillie called to him above the engine’s clatter.

            “Happy, Lillicums? So happy I could explode.”  Papa scooped Lillie up and danced a jig around the workbench. “This stuff right here—” he pointed to the can on the floor next to the workbench—”this is going to make us rich…richer than old king Midas and John D. Rockefeller put together.”

            “When we’re rich can I have a new pair of Sunday shoes, Papa?”

            “Sunday shoes? Princess Lilliana, you are going to have a different pair for each day of the week and two pairs for Sunday. Oh, life’s going to be different around here from now on.”

            Katie could sense that Papa’s excitement wasn’t just for himself, that he was truly overjoyed that the secret formula he’d been working on for years was finally going to put their family on Number One Easy Street the way he’d promised.  “Just think, Katie,” he glowed, “no more plowing and planting, watching the crops fail when the weather turns sour. No more scrimping and making do for your Mama. Roo can go to that special school for slow kids the way Doc Semmes advised.”

             Caught up by Papa’s excitement, Katie could see, oh so clearly, that new world he was dreaming for them. She would be able to take art lessons, buy all the paints and canvases she wanted. Scamp would have the new fishing gear he’d been yearning over in the Sears catalog. Lillie would have brand-new school clothes when she started first grade instead of hand-me-downs and make-do’s. As Papa had once promised, “We’ll all be wearing silk and eating store-bought bread.”

            Papa set Lillie on her feet and ordered, “You and Katie run down to the house and get your Mama…get the boys…get everyone. Tell them to come running. Tell them we’re making history here.”

            “Is that like making magic, Papa?” Lillie said.

            “Magic? You bet. The strongest magic your old Papa’s ever made. Now run get everyone.”

            Katie grabbed Lillie’s hand and headed for the house, Papa’s joy flowing through her , making her size ten oxfords fly like fairy slippers. On the way, they passed their farmhand who was hurrying toward the shed. “Heard the boss’s engine goin’,” Joe Flook shouted. “Sounds like she’s ready to take off.”

            Katie just waved and kept going.

            Halfway down the path Lillie stopped. “Katie, wait.” She tugged her hand loose. “My kitten….”

            Katie halted on the path, remembering that she’d also forgotten the apples Mama was waiting for.  She hesitated a moment, then took Lillie’s hand and turned back toward the shed. But before they could take more than a step or two, there came a thundering boom, an explosion so loud it filled the whole sky, stole Katie’s breath, sent her and Lillie flying backwards onto the grass.         

            “Papa,” Lillie whimpered.

            Eyes squeezed tightly shut, Katie prayed desperately.

            Then it was over. The horrid noise rolled off across the fields, echoed from the woods, vanished into a silence so deep it seemed as if the world had ended.

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