Read an Excerpt
Broken RoadA Novel
By STEPHEN MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Stephen Michael Zimmerman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBad Pitch
The stones skipped across the road as if they had been propelled by a star pitcher from the big leagues. As they struck the pavement, they accelerated and took off like tiny spaceships into the summer sky. The pitcher desperately waited for a car to come into sight. The humid summer morning hung its moisture in the air, waiting for the sun to warm it away. Off in the distance, a rumble announced a truck's intent to make its way past the pitcher. As the big leaguer became aware of the target, he turned and fired a slider at the last wheel on the trailer. The stone found its mark, and the pitcher was rewarded with a burst of metallic applause. The game was on. One out.
The next car passed quickly, and there was no time for the pitcher to pick up a stone and ready himself for the throw. The "whoosh" of the air caught the thrower off guard and pushed him—all 45 pounds of sinew and muscle on a three-foot-six frame—back off the mound. A runner was now on base.
The star hurler stiffened and waited for the next batter. Silence. A plane passed overhead. Then came the faint sound of an opponent. This one was smaller, sleeker and faster. The hurler tensed. His steely eyes locked onto his foe, and he palmed the missile from left to right, right to left. Timing would be everything. When his opponent was almost directly in front of him, he reached back, kicked and unloaded.
The shattering of glass and the screaming of tires announced the results of the throw. The hurler had missed the mark. Red lights exploded from the rear of the car. The angry batter turned and rushed the mound. Time to hit the dugout! The big leaguer had not trained for this—he was terrified. At 5 years old, he did not know the dangers of windshields and stones and little girls in front seats and fathers who were angry. The hurler's legs had turned to lead. His arms pumped at three times the rate his legs were moving, and he could hear the gravel yielding to angry tires behind him. The big leaguer kept ahead of the injured car all the way up the long lane and made it to the front door of the house. The door opened. It was the Second in Command, known to the pitcher simply as Mother. She was in charge of the farm in the absence of the Manager—the boy's father.
There was one, and only one, objective for the big leaguer: to get on the other side of the door. The Second in Command, on the other hand, was in no hurry. She saw a visitor coming up the walk and was ready to follow the custom of greeting visitors with a friendly face. The hurler made every attempt to alert her to the fact that this was not a time for pleasantries, but to no avail. The angry man came up the walk, and the negotiations began.
She seemed alarmed when the stranger came too close to her offspring. Her blue eyes darted toward her son, and he instinctively moved in behind her. She stood her ground in the doorway and inquired about the stranger's visit. Her black hair was groomed perfectly, and her dress of black and red checks provided a visual alert as she positioned herself between her son and the visitor.
It soon became apparent that there had been a "stray throw" and some "damage." The big leaguer was sent to the clubhouse.
Upstairs in his room, the pounding in his ears mixed with muffled, distant voices. He had never noticed the thumping noise in his bedroom before. How had he slept with that awful racket? Perspiration completely drenched his shirt as if he had gone the full nine innings. His eyes burned. Legs that could easily carry him around the bases hung limp off the side of the bed, still short of the floor. Hands that had fired the pill at fantasy speeds now were wet and shaking. Dreams of a masterful pitching performance eluded him, replaced with the awful notion of an unavoidable visit from the Manager. As he waited for the inevitable, his stomach formed a huge cannonball. It must have been intensely hot in the clubhouse to cause his eyes to sweat so heavily, and his breathing was strangely laboured. As he sat alone, his emotions were somewhere between fear and panic, knowing that there would be dire consequences to his ill-fated throw. The full impact of what was about to occur came over him. His shoulders fell, and he cried.
Sometime later he heard the telltale creaking from the stairway, announcing the imminent arrival of the Second in Command. Her passage up the steps had its own language. She ascended each stair with grace, gently and methodically. He recognized the sound and knew the difference between her temperate approach and the sound of the Manager. When the Manager was on his way, the stairs warned of his invasion with louder, harsher creaks. The old staircase was forced to give up all its warning at once as the weight of the Manager assaulted each step. The pitcher was relieved that this time it was her.
Seconds later she appeared in the doorway with a sad smile on her face. "They left," she said. She looked at him, awaiting judgment. The tears had traced trails through the dust on his reddened cheeks. The lesson had already been well learned, but the real pain was yet to come for both of them. "You'll have to stay there till your father comes home." She was, after all, the Second in Command. She was not the one who would dole out punishment. He had to wait for the Manager. This was the beginning of the sentence—the waiting and fearing of what was to come.
After a few minutes, the Sister appeared in the door of the clubhouse, having emerged from the room across the hall. "You've done it now," she said. "You smashed the windshield of that car and got glass all over those people. I told you to stop throwing stones."
He didn't raise his eyes from the floor, as if he were concentrating on the next fastball. He was well used to her custom of putting great distance between his troubles and herself. She began another incriminating sentence, which instantly summoned a cold stare from the boy. Stopping mid-syllable, she tossed her head in the air and strutted back to safety across the hall.
He looked around his bedroom. For a brief moment, the nightmare of the poor throw left his consciousness. He gazed at the wallpaper covered with stagecoaches and real men of action atop muscular horses—heroes who never had to run from anyone. The young boy saw himself atop the stagecoach, with his foot on the strongbox, one hand with eight reins guiding more power than a locomotive. He leaned against the bed post and drifted off to sleep.
"Hey, what are you doing? Get up!"
His eyes opened, and there was the Manager. The big man stood looking down at the shaken boy. He was tall and muscular with piercing eyes that directed their fury on the boy, who tried to focus through his own dreary eyes. The big man was about to unleash his anger, and his son froze.
The earlier events came flooding back to him with the speed of a silver bullet. His cheek was wet with spittle, and his eyes were having trouble focusing on anything but the red-faced Manager, standing with his hands on his belt and demanding some sort of explanation for the day's disastrous pitching performance. The Manager, although well-heated, had coldness about him; whenever he walked into the room, the hurler could feel the temperature drop. The pitcher's eyes shifted to the fists of the Manager—he knew from experience the Manager could hit from both sides of the plate—and then to the Manager's black belt. Soon the Manager's words did not matter and were just a drone reaching his ears. He had already received the only message that mattered: this day would not be scored as a no-hitter.
As the boy got up from the bed, he instinctively moved just out of the reach of the Manager, but the tactic was futile. A hand came from nowhere and struck him flat on the side of his head. His feet left the ground, and the wall came like a second assailant to meet the top of his shoulder. The boy felt a sharp pain deep in his arm and side as he felt the full impact of the wall. He fell to the floor in a heap.
The Manager hollered, "Get up!" The boy stood up, his hand on one ear. The Manager said, "Put both hands on that dresser."
This was a set play that had been used many times before. The rules were simple: Do not remove your hands from the dresser. Cry if you wish. Be a man.
The Manager's thick black belt cut through the air repeatedly, a whirring sound proclaiming each imminent arrival on the target. The pitcher's buttocks felt each strike, and he wished he could disappear. The count reached eight, then nine and then it was over. He didn't cry. Crying was for his private domain.
"Now stay here till morning."
The young boy steadfastly maintained his position in front of the dresser—at least until the Manager had closed the door.
Chapter TwoThe Ranger
After the punishment, the boy was careful to keep his distance. His experience told him that the Manager would require lots of space for the next while. When he was tempted to forget, his bruised shoulder and side reminded him not to get careless. He could not have put it into words, but he was becoming aware that he was engaged in a quiet war of wills between two intractable foes. It wasn't open warfare because it wasn't about facts or things; it had to do with capacities. On one side, the war was about fatherhood; on the other side, it was about attention. It was about psyches—and the boy had a vague sense that this war would not end quickly; it could go on as long as life lasted.
Later that day, when the door swung open, the Manager was different, filled with excitement. The faint origins of a smile suggested a crack in his usual unyielding exterior. He had brought home something that would open up a bold new world and change the whole family forever. Out in the station wagon was a large box the size of a refrigerator.
"What's in the box, honey?" the Second in Command asked.
"Let me back the wagon up to the door, and I'll show you," he replied.
The Manager backed up the station wagon to the back door of the house and wrestled the huge box into the family room. He tore off the cardboard covering, and there in the corner stood the most remarkable piece of furniture anyone in the family had ever seen. He plugged it in, and a little light like a bullet began to appear in the middle of the glass front of the cabinet. The little dot grew to a funny circle that looked more like a target for gun practice than anything else. After the Manager consulted the instructions and positioned the bunny ears, a picture came into view. A stranger from the outside world had been added to the family. A miraculous window to the world had been opened.
Everyone was excited about the new television. The best news of all was that tomorrow was Saturday, and the Manager said everyone could watch the television after chores were done. The television was very complicated: apparently there were dials that could be used to find channels, which would carry programs. The Manager said that either he or the Second in Command must operate the television at all times.
Supper was ready, and the Manager wanted to eat, so the television was shut off. The picture shrank back into that little bullet of light in the middle of the glass front and then slowly faded away.
* * *
Saturday morning was always the same. Chores were done after breakfast and had to be finished before anything else could be started. This Saturday, however, the boy had television on his mind. He asked the Second in Command if he could see something on the new television, and she said that because it was raining, he could watch it for as long as he wanted—as long as his chores were done first.
This was going to be a special day for him. He fired the hay at the cattle as fast as incoming missiles. The grain flew into the horse buckets like it had been caught in a windstorm in Idaho. He poured water into the horses' pails with such gusto that they all had showers. He swept the two barns so quickly that the poor animals must have thought that they had been caught in a tornado; they hacked and coughed, and if they could talk, they would have begged for Visine for their eyes.
He was headed back to the house through the rain when the Manager met him in the lane and said, "What about the chores?"
"All done," he said.
"You cleaned up everything?"
"Yep," he said as he kept a steady pace to the house.
Just as he landed on the big leather couch, he heard it for the first time: "Hi-Ho, Silver!" A magnificent white stallion reared up on his hind legs with a masked man riding him. This man was dressed in a white shirt, and he had two pearl-handled guns. He was called the Lone Ranger. The guns shot bullets that were made of silver, and he caught the worst of outlaws. This beautiful white horse that he called Silver was his best friend, except for an Indian named Tonto, who always helped him when he was in trouble. The Lone Ranger was the greatest hero of all time. People counted on the Lone Ranger; they could not fight off the outlaws who attacked them. They needed the strength and resolve and cunning of someone like the Lone Ranger. They needed the power of the pearl-handled, silver-bullet-shooting guns. And they needed the remarkable abilities of Silver, who was smarter, could run faster and could climb steeper hills than any other horse.
The Lone Ranger was stronger, smarter, better, tougher, more honest, kinder and gentler than anyone else the boy had ever met. And he was a much better friend than anyone else in the boy's life. Like the people in the old Western towns, the boy began to look to the Lone Ranger to protect him from trouble and injustice as the boy played out his fantasies. The Lone Ranger became his role model. He was determined that if he had to grow up, he would grow up to be like the Lone Ranger.
And that is how, in his own mind at least, the boy became the Ranger. The summer of 1953 had just passed.
Chapter ThreePearl Handles
Winter was a slow time around the farm. Chores were boring, and the horses stayed in the small corrals. Even when there was no snow, the fields were not much good for grazing, so they also kept the cattle close to the barn. There was not much in the way of activity with the animals for the Ranger. The only thing looming was Christmas. He was still watching The Lone Ranger on TV, and he logged every new episode in his memory bank to play out on the back of the farm. When asked what he wanted for Christmas, the same answer came no matter who asked: twin pearl-handled six-shooters. This had been his only request since the first time he had seen the Lone Ranger on TV. The young Ranger was fixated with the vision of the guns around his waist and with silver bullets covering the belts.
In mid-December, winter hit hard. The huge jack pines in the front yard bowed gracefully under loads of snow, and the white plank fences in front of the house seemed to blend into the snowscape. The white blanket had all but arrested the life of the farm. There was a hush, a pause filled with the anticipation of Christmas, and it was a wonderful time for children to allow their imaginations to run wild.
This year it was the Ranger who dared to let his imagination, his hopes and his dreams run completely out of control. It was the night of dreams—Christmas Eve.
As he commanded Silver to rear up, he could feel the strength rippling through the back and hips of the great steed. He saw Silver's mane and head rise above him as the horse stood on his hind legs, with the Ranger still on his back far above the ground. The Ranger knew, at times like these, that he was the master of the universe. He knew that he could truly stop evil and be a force for good.
As the Ranger looked down, he was almost blinded by the flash from the six-shooters strapped around his waist. These were the weapons of the Ranger. The pearl handles were as white as snow, signifying purity. The bullets were silver, also pure. These guns were the tools of the Ranger.
Silver took him far away from his room, from the punishments and isolation that resided there. His guns were the tools that helped him protect himself and those who were too weak to fight.
As the Ranger rode Silver through town, he heard shots come from the other end of town. He jerked on the reins, and Silver reared up, spun on his back legs and galloped down through Main Street. The Ranger instinctively reached for his pearl-handled guns and let the reins go limp; Silver knew what to do without guidance. There were three bandits coming out of the bank after a holdup. They were all backing out of the bank and shooting their six-guns. One of them was holding a girl from the town tightly under his arm. Zing—a bullet just missed the Ranger's ear. He drew his pearl-handled guns and shot one of the bandits dead right on the front steps of the bank. The other two made off with the girl. They both shot at the Ranger, who was riding low in the saddle. Silver instinctively moved to the left of the shooters.
Excerpted from Broken Road by STEPHEN MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN Copyright © 2012 by Stephen Michael Zimmerman. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.