Grand Traverseby Michael Beres
The year is 2040. The world is in chaos. A valiant few have taken on the struggle to help the planet through its violent, lethal pilgrimage into the future. A valiant few, dogged by evil. Paul Carter, his family forced from their home by a toxic chemical spill, becomes an environmental activist. After winning a class-action suit against the chemical company… See more details below
The year is 2040. The world is in chaos. A valiant few have taken on the struggle to help the planet through its violent, lethal pilgrimage into the future. A valiant few, dogged by evil. Paul Carter, his family forced from their home by a toxic chemical spill, becomes an environmental activist. After winning a class-action suit against the chemical company responsible, he establishes a rural commune-style community. When his wife contracts breast cancer, his hopes and dreams rest on the destiny of his daughter, Jamie. Jamie Carter, whose life has been irrevocably affected by the toxic chemical spill, is obsessed with the environment. Friends, including a Chernobyl survivor, encourage her to enter political life. Her ideas gain worldwide attention, catapulting her into a limelight that proves to be a double-edged sword. Heather West has the compulsion needed for success in a politically divided, media-driven society. After a lawsuit that destroys her family, she uses her good looks and sex appeal to enter the world of television. But it's more than fame she craves. It's revenge.
- Medallion Press, Incorporated
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By Michael Beres Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2005
All right reserved.
Chapter One A Department of Natural Resources sign at the public access ramp sloping down into the water announces that Wylie Lake is two-hundred acres in size and only electric motors are allowed. Other DNR signs, some of which are quite weathered, warn of various species contamination, including zebra mussels. Ripples from two boats in the center of the lake on this sunny, windless morning distort autumn leaves in the lake's mirror, creating a kaleidoscope of color.
A young man in his 30s rows an aluminum rowboat similar to dozens flipped upside down along the shore. The man wears a jacket and wide-brimmed hat that shades his light complexion as he bends at the oars. An old woman-well into her 90s-maneuvers a pedal boat that lists to one side because of the lack of a second passenger. Rather than using the electric trolling motor mounted on the stern of the boat, and despite her age, the old woman pedals the boat. The woman has dark complexion and wears a brightly colored shawl over an ankle-length frock. The pedal boat's solar cell canopy is designed to shade two passengers, but the sun is low and it shines orange on its single occupant. The woman's dark complexion is accented by a coif of thinning gray hair through which her scalp is prominent.
As the bright morning sun rises above the tree line on the Michigan hillside, the ancestry of the two boaters is obvious: The oldwoman in the pedal boat is of African descent; the young man in the rowboat is of European descent.
The man stops rowing, picks up a fishing pole and casts a bobbered line as the rowboat's momentum diminishes. The woman stops pedaling and also picks up a fishing pole and casts. The two boats drift closer as if the center of the lake has a gravitational pull. Eventually the woman and the man are close enough to speak to one another.
"Lots of ashes in this lake," says the woman, her voice strong despite her age.
The young man answers. "Ashes? Is that some kind of fish?"
"People's ashes. They live down there. When they go fishing the bottoms of their bobbers are the tops of our bobbers."
The young man peers into the dark water for a moment, then looks back out to his bobber. A short stubble of thick facial hair is obvious on his white skin. Given a couple of weeks the man could have a fine beard.
The woman continues. "A lady friend of mine is down there." She chuckles. "When she died, I married her husband. Their daughter-my stepdaughter-has skin as white as yours."
A high-pitched whine in the distance interrupts their conversation. Something hidden by the brightly colored trees approaches the lake from the northwest, skirts the northern shore. It sounds like a winged insect with a tiny jet engine. Although they can see nothing but trees, cabins, docks, and upturned boats, the young man and old woman follow the sound, watching the shoreline attentively. Eventually the road nears the shore at a clearing and an electric cycle races past. Because of a wind-breaker suit, gloves, helmet, and face shield, it is impossible to determine the rider's sex or skin color. The whine of the cycle lowers in pitch as it climbs a hill where the road turns away from the lake. Once over the hill the whine diminishes and it is quiet again.
The old woman has one hand to her throat. "At first I thought it was a siren. Sirens used to scare my second husband to death."
"Why was he frightened of sirens?" asks the young man.
The old woman continues looking to where the electric cycle had disappeared. "You'd think it would be because of the terrorist attacks back then. But it wasn't. Nightmares did it, sirens coming down a lonely road. He used to sleep with his hand resting on the switch to the reading lamp. Said the energy waiting upstream from the switch calmed him. He used to call out his first wife's name-Jude-my best friend. Short for Judy. When I married him, sometimes he'd call out my name, sometimes he'd call out Jude's name. The nightmare was always the same. His daughter-my stepdaughter-and another girl playing in one of those backyard swimming pools. Both girls little and the other one wearing a big old sun hat like yours."
The young man tugs at the brim of his hat, suddenly realizing he's imitating a cowboy tipping his hat to a lady without removing it. As he does this he thinks perhaps the terrorists who started all the craziness at the beginning of the century should have worn cowboy hats during their attacks. Crazy cowboys because, after all, one of the definitions of cowboy is a reckless person who ignores risks and consequences.
The old woman leans to the side and looks down into the water. "Funny thing is, before my first husband died, he was in the dream, too. Who would've guessed one day I'd be sleeping in the same bed with a white man who had dreams about my first husband. Two little girls climbing into a backyard pool on a wobbly ladder, and my husband-a one-armed chemical waste troll who lives in backyard pools ... See, my first husband was a veteran, got his arm blown off in Vietnam when he was just a boy. The chemical thing was because of a chemical waste dump ..."
The old woman looks up toward the young man. "None of this is making sense. I already got a mess of bluegills. I should let you alone."
The young man begins reeling in his line. "That's all right. I'm not using bait. Fishing's simply an excuse to come out here in the morning." He holds his line up by the bobber and shows her the bare hook. "I also left my phone in the cabin so no one can interrupt me."
"I've interrupted you," she says.
"No. My uncle, whose cabin I'm staying at, told me about you. He's dead now, but the family still owns the cabin. Anyway, when I saw you out here ..."
She looks at him a little warily. "You're not recording, are you?"
He puts down his pole, holds up both hands. "Absolutely not."
She nods. "Well, even if you were, what the hell difference would it make now? Want some breakfast?"
The old woman reaches over the side of her pedal boat and holds up a stringer full of bluegills. "Nothing like fried fish for breakfast. The DNR's been stocking the lake with genetically pure pan fish for a couple years now. Catch them while they're young they're just fine."
She lowers the stringer back over the side and begins reeling in her line, staring down into the dark water once again. "When I look back over the years it's hard to believe how much has happened. I never talked about it much back then. But now that there's not much time left for me, it seems all I do is talk. If you weren't here I'd be talking to the water, or singing to it."
She looks toward the horizon. "And now with another winter coming ..." She hums a few bars of a song, then turns back to the young man. "My second husband used to play The Beatles singing "Hey Jude" when he and Judy made love. They recorded songs on tape back then. You've probably never used a tape machine."
"I've seen them," says the young man.
The old woman continues. "Anyway, my second husband played "Hey Jude" for him and Judy. Not for me. Not when we made love. It was my first husband who told me about my second husband playing "Hey Jude." See, way back then we lived in the same neighborhood and the boys went for walks in the morning. Anyway, you know the song, don't you?"
As the young man rows and she pedals, the old woman's voice cracks the quiet of dawn. She hums "Hey Jude" and even tries to sing a few words of the song. But the only part that comes out clearly is the chorus and the repeat of the song title.
When the old woman gives up on the song she coughs to clear her throat, wipes her nose with her sleeve, and as the young man rows slowly alongside her pedal boat toward a dock in the distance, she begins telling him about, of all things, a freight train crossing Illinois farmland.
Three Decades Earlier
The track was seamless, welded atop a recently refurbished track bed. It was dawn, patches of ground fog lingering in ditches. The railroad right-of-way, whose shoulders in days gone by carried steam-pulled troop trains, then diesel-pulled vista cars, then freights, now carried a train the media had dubbed the Dawn Patrol because it conveyed its cargo only at dawn when winds were calm and overhead aircraft were banned.
The Dawn Patrol headed east on its sparkling seamless rails toward the imminent sunrise. It was forty miles south of Chicago and would soon cross the state line into Indiana. So far that morning it had traveled eighty miles since leaving the Iroquois Nuclear Power Plant in northern Illinois. After crossing the state line it would turn northeast and travel another eighty miles to the Tri-State Nuclear Waste Disposal Facility near the Michigan state line. As usual it had left the Iroquois plant at one in the morning and would not arrive at the Tri-State facility until nine in the morning. The reason it took eight hours to cover the one-hundred sixty miles was because the Dawn Patrol traveled at exactly twenty miles per hour, no more, no less. The reason for shipping nuclear waste from Iroquois was because plants throughout the Midwest had shipped waste to Iroquois for many years while waiting for the Tri-State facility to be completed.
Thunderstorms were predicted for later that night, many hours away. By then the Dawn Patrol's radioactive cargo for the day would be safely put to bed.
* * *
Two men-one black, one white-out for a morning run, white man lagging behind. Black man shouts back to the white man.
"Here she comes, Paul. Where're the lazy bastard protesters who used to be out here?" Hiram's single arm swung in wide arcs as he made his way along the asphalt walkway.
"In bed," said Paul.
"Not very dedicated environmentalists."
Hiram's mention of environmentalists reminded Paul of his youth, back during the Reagan administration protesting when James Watt came to town. Environmental activism that introduced him to Judy and eventually led to their marriage. Environmental activism that turned out to be pretty damned ironic years later when their neighborhood in Easthaven was contaminated by Ducain Chemical. His daughter only two years old when it happened, his daughter who would later be called Chemical Jamie in grade school when legal appeals ran out for the chemical company and they finally put the senior Ducain on trial.
As Hiram set the pace in the wet-tipped dawn, his single arm twisting his stride out of balance as if sidestepping land mines, Paul wondered what Hiram would say when he told him about the dream. In the distant clearing, around a bend in the path, the Dawn Patrol moaned.
"Come on, Paul!" shouted Hiram. "Got a train to meet!"
The track curved, giving the iron-clad cars the look of a thick snake. The train growled on its seamless rails, its flanks glistening in dawn light.
At the crossing, Hiram ran in place, massaging his stump with his right hand, while Paul stood still, rubbing a tender spot beneath his left rib. The vibration of the earth caused by the train reminded Paul of an acid trip years earlier when Marty Kaatz spiked his beer at a Sigma-Alpha-whatever house party. As the cars rolled past, Paul noticed that each set of wheel trucks gave off a slightly different pitch. He stared at the wheels imagining he had X-ray vision and could see the inner workings of machinery. See inside where a roller bearing, overlooked during final inspection, has flat-spotted and is, every few turns, pausing and heating up.
But the train passed without incident, the whisper of morning returned, and the two men jogged across the tracks, exchanging waves with a state trooper parked on the far side of the road where the path came out of the woods. Once off the asphalt path they boarded the sidewalk and began walking the final leg back to showers and breakfast tables and good-bye kisses as both their wives left for work and both of them did a few morning chores before leaving for their own jobs. They slowed, cooling down.
"I had a dream about you last night," said Paul.
"How romantic," said Hiram. "I thought you only dreamed about chemical dumps."
"The dream was about the chemical dump."
"What was I doing at the dump?"
"You were outside the dump. A neighborhood pervert exposing yourself in a backyard swimming pool."
Hiram wiped his brow in an exaggerated way. "Lordy, for a second I thought you'd made me into a chemical company president. What was his name? I keep forgetting it."
"Yeah, Ducain. Your ace of spades. But back to the dream. What was I doing in a backyard swimming pool?"
"You were trying to grab Jamie and another little girl who was sitting with Jamie on the pool ladder. But the dream, the whole point of it, still had to do with Harold Ducain."
As they continued walking, the silence of morning became eerie. The cadence of the clickity-clack of the Dawn Patrol on that particular morning had triggered a feeling of déjà vu in Paul that he could not shake. He'd been here before, about to tell Hiram the whole story, only this time he really would tell the story. Why, after all the years they'd known one another-but why not? He had to tell Hiram about Ducain's daughter eventually. It was in the cards. It was déjà vu. The pressure to confess that morning was a technicolor pressure, insides exploding out, glistening in the morning sun if he didn't talk. Just talk.
"Anyway," said Paul, "in the past when I told you about Ducain I kind of left something out."
"Look, Paul, if you're trying to unload something, don't bullshit around. We're almost to my house and it's a work day."
"Okay, okay. See, Ducain's daughter's been in my dreams a lot lately and it's brought back memories. The trial never bothered me. What bothered me was Ducain's suicide. I always had the feeling he took the fall for someone else. It's not like he hauled those drums of shit out into that field on his back."
"How old was Ducain's daughter during the trial?"
"Eleven or twelve. Same as Jamie."
"And how old was Jamie when they chased you out of Easthaven?"
"So, how can little girls two years old be sitting on a pool ladder?"
"In the dream Jamie and Ducain's daughter are the age they were at the trial. Ducain's daughter was a redhead and ... anyway, it's just a dream."
"So you said. How many years has it been now?"
"Since the trial?"
"Since they chased you out of Easthaven."
"1989, that makes it twenty-three years."
"And so far everyone's still doing okay?"
"You, Judy, and Jamie. That's who you should be thinking about. Not a dead guy. A dead guy's a dead guy and you can't do a goddamn thing about him. What's important now is how your family's doing. So, the three of you, no new health problems?"
"Not since Judy's mastectomy."
"How long has that been?"
"If you can beat cancer for five years, the prognosis is damn good."
"Is this your Vietnam vet time-heals-all-wounds speech?"
Hiram stopped walking, turned toward Paul. "No," he said, sounding somewhat angry. "It's my dreams-are-bullshit speech. Best way to handle them is to get pissed enough to drive 'em the hell out. Think about what the chemical dump did to you and your neighbors. Ducain and his daughter didn't live next to his dump. You did!"
Paul turned to face Hiram, stared into his dark eyes. "How about slapping me around some?"
Hiram laughed and they continued walking.
"Yeah," said Hiram, "that's what Bianca used to do with me. When I'd wake up nights screaming about my arm, there'd be Bianca, who goes to Sunday church meetings with her girlfriends, slapping me around some, then holding me like a baby, saying over and over, 'It's all bullshit. It's all bullshit.'"
"Judy holds me when I wake up," said Paul.
As they walked into their neighborhood the sun was up and it was already hot. As if nudged from bed by the heat, the rest of the world had come alive. Doors slammed, cars backed out of driveways, the faint odor of coffee was in the air. But there was also the smell of decay, a smell Hiram sometimes commented on when reminiscing about his boyhood in the projects or his stint in Vietnam. It was garbage day, trash containers and recycling bins lining both sides of the street. As they neared Hiram's house, Paul thought about death and the shortness of life and remembered the invitation he and Judy had discussed but kept putting off, an invitation they had discussed again the previous night.
"Damn, I almost forgot."
"We're going up to the cottage two weeks from Friday and we wondered if you and Bianca would come with us."
"Walden Pond, huh?"
"I don't think Thoreau ever made it to Michigan."
"Still planning to retire up there?"
"Judy wants to keep working a couple more years. I'd do it tomorrow."
Excerpted from Grand Traverse by Michael Beres Copyright © 2005 by Michael Beres. Excerpted by permission.
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