The journey from here to there, from the familiar present to the unknown future, is the essence of life. Even when you think you know where you’re going, you are guaranteed surprises along the way.
Living alone in the North Carolina mountains, Dave lost his true love early in his marriage, and despite recently found companionship in two highly individual dogs, wonders if—or how—he will ever regain a reason for being. Gwen has followed a self-proclaimed mission to rescue animals from intolerable circumstances with an obsession that is spinning out of her control.
A pair of stray, starving hound dog siblings have escaped a meaningless existence, only to discover a world that is harsh and uncaring. A widow in Virginia is working through her own loneliness by forming a link in a multi-state dog rescue pipeline, while providing a community service opportunity for an at-risk teenage girl given a last chance by a criminal court judge. Life is throwing twists and obstacles in all their paths during the two months leading up to Christmas. It’s a good thing the season of giving sometimes provides miracles: the lives of some of these wanderers will literally depend on it.
Along with key contributions by an Animal Control Officer, the High Sheriff, and several colorful mountain folks, A Bridge for Christmas is an intriguing interplay between characters whose life journeys have intersected in the most improbable ways.
Though the identities of the characters and place names are creations of the author, many of them and the events surrounding them are drawn from real persons and actual events. Truth and fiction are much more closely linked than we all want to believe. It is what makes life, in all its mystery and challenge, worth the ride.
|Publisher:||Brighton Publishing LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.53(d)|
Read an Excerpt
With a mighty carrruuunch! the last of the long dead roots gave way. Nobody was around to hear it. And even if folks did live near this remote turn in the mountain creek bend, they wouldn't have been able to — not above the jet engine roar of raging water cascading off rocky walls, sending its mounting payload over and around boulders that stood in its way.
Bear Creek, a normally serene, picturesque mountain stream had, in a matter of a few hours, found its inner monster, and now angrily thrashed about in an uncontrolled tantrum. The frothing, caramel maelstrom was a beast, intent on breaking, chewing, and devouring anything in its path.
A once mighty hundred-foot red oak had fallen on hard times. Decades ago, it held a strong arm over the water to support a swing to spawn childhood memories for backcountry young'uns. Its forty-inch girth gave comfort to men young and old as they napped in welcome shade on hot summer afternoons, happily oblivious to bobbing corks.
This giant valiantly bore the brunt of summer droughts and icy winds, renewing itself each spring with seemingly eternal hope. But a late summer lightning strike delivered a critical blow to this majestic creation, severing thirty feet of height and sending a billion volts of raw electric power through its foundation into the ground.
There would be no more spring renewals, no more cooling shade leaves, no more whooshing whispers in autumn breezes. A hefty trunk stood testament to its endurance and will. And it might have gone on that way for many more years, but on this night, it was no match for the most horrific version of Mother Nature's fury: flash- flood torrents of rampaging water. With its last tentacle now losing its desperate hold on solid ground at water's edge, seventy feet of dead oak weight crashed down into the turbulence and was swept away into the thundering darkness.
* * *
"Oof!" Ow! "Move your leg!" Who's doin' that? "Tabor — is that you?"
Doesn't much matter — his sister's just as bad.
Dave wasn't getting anywhere blindly tugging the bed covers to nudge the furry culprit away from his ribcage, so he reluctantly forced one eye open. The guilty party stretched again, this time prying both hind feet into his shoulder.
I swear they grow longer every time they do this, he thought. He raised his head off the pillow just enough to see fifty pounds of tussled brown-and-white fur sideways to the bed.
"Brandy, you dog! Look — I'm on the edge over here, and you got all the covers. That ain't right!"
At her master's tone, Brandy's head snapped up and around to see what the matter was. Quickly deciding he was just being his normal early morning grousy self, she let it fall back onto the bedspread, offering a luxurious yawn and another hefty full-body stretch.
Tabor was already up, intently surveying the field below from the floor-to-ceiling bedroom bay window. Deer had likely just tiptoed unafraid along well-worn paths in full view of the house, having learned long ago the daily routines of its inhabitants. The four-year-old black lab sat quietly, knowing his time would come in a little while to roam about his fifty acres of mostly hardwoods on a full tummy, tracking every movement those overgrown rodents had made overnight. He briefly turned one ear backward in response to Dave's fussing, but sensing nothing unusual, returned it to join the other in radar mode. The important stuff was, as it usually was, outside.
Mice and bunnies would soon emerge from burrows, scurrying for fuel while red-tailed hawks glided overhead, checking the pantry for breakfast. But it was squirrels he kept a keen, watchful eye out for; they were the prize of prizes. A healthy and still young sixty-pound dog can give merry chase to a deer for about a hundred feet before the fleet-footed quarry has had enough fun and leaves an already panting canine in its dust, easily distancing itself out of sight in a half-dozen bounds. A few of these futile chases had rewarded him with only tired legs and many minutes of heavy panting, so Tabor figured he'd satisfy his obligation by simply guarding the house and owner against those interlopers, and letting them think they ruled the estate.
Squirrels, however, were another matter entirely. They were quick, but as often as not had a predetermined escape route in mind, which kept them on the ground long enough to give Tabor a real opportunity to snag one that zigged when a zag would have been the wiser choice. He'd snagged a few in his time, but always just managed to hook one by the tail and sling it aside, leaving the shocked but unharmed critter to make an executive decision and dart up the nearest tree, where it would figure out a new escape plan after its heart rate settled down.
"Well, fine — I guess I'll just get up," Dave finally muttered, with a groan. "You idiots aren't going to let me sleep anymore anyway, are you?"
Brandy didn't move, but kept both eyes on him to see if he meant it. No use getting out of this cushy bed unless breakfast was truly in the offing. A bunch of the usual noises from the bathroom and clothes closet confirmed that food would shortly be appearing in bowls, so she and Tabor vacated their posts and trotted, shoulder-to-shoulder, toward the kitchen, wagging tails appreciatively whenever Dave glanced their way.
As he emptied cans of duck and potato over kibble, Dave was treated to that rare mountain climate event when against the backdrop of first light on a cloudless morning, slivers of crystalline moisture floated across his view, as if the whole world had turned into a giant snow globe. These tiny silver flakes of frozen water twisted their way sideways, gradually vanishing in the distance, replaced by thousands of others as the outdoor thermometer read twenty degrees. He paused to appreciate this one, among many, of Nature's endless gifts, knowing it would be over in a few minutes as the sun rose. It occurred to him, as it had increasingly over the past few years, that his was a good, but incomplete life — and time was plowing ahead toward the inevitable. With a sigh, he finished preparing the morning feast for his four-paw pals, then set the bowls down and watched two heads drop into them with gusto.
Wish I had that kind of enthusiasm, he thought. Wonder if I'll ever get it back.
Dave realized that more and more, he was greeting each day with resignation instead of renewal.
Riiiing! The jarring blast from his landline phone jolted him out of his malaise. He didn't know it, but his life, and a whole lot of other things, were about to change.CHAPTER 2
The speakerphone's screen showed a number Dave didn't recognize.
Probably another damn telemarketer, he thought, but then noted the local area code. Still, this time of year, it's usually some charitable group (or worse, a scam pretending to be one), he added to himself, crossly. On the third ring, having watched his family polish off their breakfasts, he decided to answer so he could get rid of whoever it was. Otherwise,they'll just keep calling back.
"Yeah?" he growled into the receiver.
"Uh, Dave?" said the woman uncertainly on the other end. "Hi — this is Helen."
Helen. Although they only lived a quarter- mile away from each other, they'd not spoken to each other more than once every few years, and only then when somebody had a problem — with the other. Dave had discovered soon after building his house in this mountain cove area that he needed a fence between the two properties. He'd long heard that 'good fences make good neighbors', and though he'd since learned that that wasn't necessarily true, it had been proven to him time and again that they make for better ones. Especially if one has dogs. Even more especially if both have dogs. 'Helen', huh?
With a sense of dread, he replied, "Oh — hi, Helen. How are ya?"
After her customary "Oh, I'm fine," she got down to business. "Lis-sen, the reason I'm calling" (Dave's gut tightened) — "I have a problem."
What a surprise, thought Dave.
"Have you heard some dogs howling around here lately?"
Have I heard that? Other than keeping me awake at all hours of the wee hours for the last few weeks, no. "Yeah — I figured they were strays passing through."
"Well, there are two of them. They came into my yard a few days ago, looking real scrawny, just skin and bones, so I put some food out for them. I thought they'd just move on then. But they came back the next night, so I gave them a little more food. And now — now they won't go away! They howl all night and I can't get any sleep. And they eat the food out of my dogs' bowls when I leave food out for my guys, and it's just a mess. I have to do something, but you know I work and I'm not home all the time, and so I thought maybe you might know somebody who could help take them someplace? But," she quickly added, "I don't want them going to the county shelter. That place is just awful — they'll just kill them."
Vintage Helen, Dave grimaced. No molehill she can't make into a mountain. How many things wrong with this picture? Here we go — "Uh, you know if you feed strays, they're not going to go anywhere else," he offered with as much patience as he could muster.
"I know, but they looked so pitiful — I couldn't just leave them out there in the woods starving!" Helen countered.
"No, I know," said Dave. Well, ticking off her goofy thoughts one by one isn't going to get us anywhere. "What do they look like?" he asked.
"Oh, they're hound dogs. Plain ol' hounds — probably about thirty to forty pounds, I guess," she answered.
"Uh, huh. Where are they now?"
"Oh, probably somewhere around my yard. They tend to roam around in my woods during the day, but at night, they're back, howling even after I feed them."
"Look, Helen, is there any way you can corral them, so that if I do find somebody to come get them, they'll be available to transport?" Dave asked. I can't believe that'll ever happen, but I certainly can't go over there and start chasing after skittish strays. Besides, I don't have any cages to put them in. Might as well see what she thinks she can do, and maybe we'll end this right here. Animal Control isn't the friendliest option for strays, but they're there for many reasons, and this looks like one of 'em, he thought.
"I think I can," Helen said matter-of-factly. "I have a couple of cages that are the right size, and they're getting more trusting each time I feed them. If you can find someone to come to my house and get them tomorrow, I'll coax them tonight to where I can get a leash around their necks. I'll have them caged and ready by morning. Just let me know."
"Okay — I'll make some calls, and let you know by tonight what I find out," Dave said, with no clue as to who in the world he was going to call. The only thing he did know was that Helen wasn't the only one who wanted that insane midnight-to-5:00 a.m. baying at the moon to stop.
"Thanks," she said, then "I gotta head out. I know you must be happy to be retired." (Oh, you got that right, lady, but at times like this, the comforting, familiar confines of my old office look pretty darned good.) "Call me tonight." (Click).
Dave held the receiver out in front of him, shook his head, and with a sigh said, "Okay squirrelheads — time for a walk. Maybe I'll come up with an idea." Maybe. 'Squirrelheads' were way ahead of him, already at the door, sporting ridiculously happy grins, heads back and forth toward him and the front door. They either understood his many offbeat nicknames as terms of endearment, or they were just too happy in their own skins to much care what he called them, so long as it was to mealtimes and walks.
Not a bad life philosophy for people types, too, he thought. "Let's go." The pair exploded through the crack in the screen door opening, taking the handle out of Dave's hand, jumped off the short porch and bolted out onto the well-worn path leading to adventure, woods, and river.CHAPTER 3
Thirty-year-old Dave and his mid-20s bride, Lauren, stumbled onto this property during their backcountry honeymoon escapade thirty years earlier after exchanging "I do's" at the altar. They discovered a lot of things that trip — mostly about each other in usual honeymoon fashion, but also their previously unrealized shared love of Nature, especially the solitude and beauty it offered. It's one thing for people to say, "Oh, I just love Nature! You can really get away from, you know, everything!" It's quite another to actually want to live in it. Feeling 'at home' in a remote place is not a given if you want to have easy food on the table and reasonably quick access to medical help. That takes money. As the wife of one of his previous bosses once bluntly told Dave when she heard of his dream to someday 'live in the country', "It's expensive," then added, with what he later remembered as an unkind smile, "You'll find out how expensive." She was right.
Not entirely confident around women, Dave had flirted with dating on and off in college, but found no serious match. Immediately after graduation, he parlayed his business degree into a job with a Virginia textile manufacturer, and through focused attention on details and no fear of long hours and hard work, he attracted the attention of the corporate office. One late afternoon, he received a brief call from the regional coordinator of operations.
"See me in my office day after tomorrow, 9 a.m. sharp," the voice simply said and hung up. Only three years into the work world, Dave didn't have enough experience to guess what was afoot.
Am I in trouble, he wondered?
Quickly recapping recent days and weeks, he couldn't recall anything that might suggest he'd given anyone cause to fire him. And, anyway, that would be handled by his supervisor, not someone from the corporate headquarters level.
So, what's this about?
Travel to the meeting would take him five hours to drive one-way, and that meant missing some work the next day. Easily arranged, he put in a half-day the next morning, then hopped in his aging Jeep and drove to a motel, where he spent a sleepless night, anxiously anticipating whatever lay in store for him.
"We're having some problems in our Angston plant, Dave. You familiar with where that is?" asked Ted Borman, sitting relaxed behind his expansive mahogany desk. Before Dave could answer, Ted swiveled around to a topographic map on the wall behind him, stood up and stabbed an index finger at a spot south of the Virginia- North Carolina border, near where those two states and Tennessee met. "Not much city life in those parts, Dave," he continued, but there's plenty of good water and not a lot of taxes. Or local government interference." He almost growled that last one.
Returning to his seat and bringing his chair squarely up to his desk, Ted planted both arms on the surface with a thunk, and got to the point. "We need someone to bring their productivity up to snuff, and I mean right now!" Looking down and to the side, he added, "We've had employee complaints about how things are being handled." Then, looking Dave squarely in the eye, he added, "And frankly, between you and me — off the record, mind you — they're probably not without justification. We should've made some changes down there a long time ago, but —" he stopped without finishing that thought. "Anyhow, we've had our eye on you for quite some time, Dave. You're good with people, and you seem to have enough business sense to be trusted with overall management. Besides, you'll have a good financial assistant to lean on. It'll mean a hefty raise for you and a chance to show what you can do. Whaddya say?"
Dave wasn't sure his mouth was still closed. He checked. Ted's eyes bore into his. This was a no- nonsense guy. He's going to want an answer, well, now. Dave sucked in a breath, and asked, "How soon do you, I mean, would you want me to start?"
Ted raised up a little, then settled relaxed into the back of his chair. His face opened into a broad smile. "How much time do you need to pack your things?" he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he rolled his chair back, briskly strode around his desk, stuck out a giant paw, and said, "Good luck, son!"
And that was that. Done deal.
Dave cleared his throat, and with as much confidence as he could muster said, "Uh, thank you, sir. I'll — I'll do my best."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Bridge for Christmas"
Copyright © 2018 William Schwenn.
Excerpted by permission of Brighton Publishing LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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