Thirteen-year-old Jason Sorenson has nothing left to lose. Following a tragic car accident, his family is dead, and his leg is mangled. The courts send him to Washington to live with an uncle he's never met. To him, Washington is a strange and unfamiliar place, and it certainly isn't easy to make new friends ... until he stumbles upon the ruins of an ancient Native American village nearby.
So begins an unplanned journey for Jason, one that won't be easy. The Native American culture is even more foreign to him than the state of Washington. When he meets Crystal Clearwater, things come into focus, but Jason can't tell if it's his newfound knowledge of her culture or the girl herself. Things get more complicated when some of the bullies in her tribe don't take too kindly to an outsider falling for one of their people.
Together, Jason and Crystal unearth artifacts that seem almost magical. They also stumble over human bones, the discovery of which opens up a whole lot of questions for the locals. As time passes, Jason needs Crystal's help to make sense of it all. He also forges an unexpected bond with his Uncle Jake in the process. Maybe Washington isn't so bad after all, and maybe treasure is not always buried in the ground.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.41(d)|
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By R. L. Spada
Abbott PressCopyright © 2011 R. L. Spada
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Trip
Confusion scrambles my brain. I can't tell up from down, left from right, night from day. I wonder if I'm all alone. There's a ticking sound, like metal cooling or a heartbeat slowing, but it fades away until silence fills the empty space around me. I may still be in the car, but nothing is clear.
I try to breathe, to hear my own breath, to remember what happened. There was noise—loud, scary noise—and then nothing. The car is rolling and flipping in slow motion in my mind, like a scene from the Roadrunner show where the coyote hangs suspended and then drops into space. In cartoons, crazy accidents happen. People laugh. No one gets hurt. But this isn't funny.
An unfamiliar smell, something earthy and alive, hangs in the air. Its sharpness tugs at me little by little. Coppery and rich, it's like nothing I've smelled before. It grabs at my lungs. I can scarcely breathe. Its rich, syrupy thickness makes me gag, and I try to spit it out. I wonder what Sammy can smell, taste, and feel.
No part of my body will budge. I concentrate on moving my legs and arms, but a cold hand presses me down, covering me in strangely peaceful darkness. Tired and scared, I want to sleep. Oh, how I hope this is a dream.
The sound of rain pulls me to something familiar, but the rain is falling on the side of the car, not on the roof. Raindrops land gently on my face—cool and real. Voices fade in and out like a radio not quite tuned to a station. I want to call out, but my voice is lost. Nothing comes out of my mouth, even though I want to scream. In desperation, I try again.
"I'm here. Help me. Please help me," I say in an unfamiliar voice.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and opened my eyes.
"Are you okay?" The man next to me was my uncle.
I shook myself awake. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a bad dream," I told the man driving the pickup. I had only known my uncle for a couple of hours. He could not possibly understand the horror of reliving that night over and over—no one could.
I took a deep breath and focused on the tattered windshield wipers swiping at raindrops as the rusty Ford pickup rattled down the road. The rain streaked my side window, blurring the landscape, green on faded green. I wondered if it ever stopped raining on the Olympic Peninsula.
My conversation with Uncle Jake consisted of disjointed exchanges, as if we each feared complete sentences. After he picked me up at the Greyhound station in Seattle, we tried awkward small talk for a while. Forced bits of polite conversation soon tired us both. I settled against the window and fell asleep, only to wake again in a cold sweat.
The long ride left me stiff, achy, and dazed. My leg throbbed. I rubbed the raw skin on my thigh, glad to be free from the plaster cast. The doctors said my mangled leg would eventually be okay. Some things in life can get better.
"Could we listen to some music on the radio?" I had to say something to break the silence.
"Sorry, Jason. The radio in Henrietta hasn't worked in years. Even if it did work, there aren't likely any stations that would come in on this side of the Olympics anyway."
This was too crazy not to be another weird dream. At home, I might have just suggested that we slip in a CD. Glancing at my uncle behind the wheel of the tired Ford F-150, I realized that he might never have heard of a CD player. The hulk of a pickup he called Henrietta was built around the time of eight-track tapes.
Until last month, I'd never heard of my great-uncle, Jake Sorensen. After seating me on a leather couch in the stuffy law office of Erickson, Smith, and Dodd, one of the lawyers told me that Jake Sorensen was to be my guardian. No one asked what I wanted. People avoided asking me to make any decisions, as if I were too young to have an opinion or too fragile to make a choice. I didn't complain. There was nothing left for me in Helena.
I glanced sideways at my uncle. It didn't surprise me that I'd never heard of him. Mom said that she and my father grew up in the Northwest, but that's about all I ever knew. It was weird. My father was so adamant about completely cutting any connection to their early lives that I sometimes wondered if my parents lived a past life of crime, robbing banks like Bonnie and Clyde. No, Mom wouldn't swat a fly. My father was another story.
I missed Sammy and Mom so much it hurt. I didn't miss my father, though. He could explode like an unpredictable volcano, erupting and leaving chaos in his wake. I learned to avoid trouble by becoming invisible. Without making a sound, I could enter and leave a room, carry out the trash, do my homework, or help Sammy pick up his toys. When I thought of my father, my gut tightened into a clenched fist of fear.
To his credit, my father believed in school and learning. He saw to it that I never missed a day of school, and he left us alone if he saw us reading. I especially enjoyed reading to Sammy. He listened intently and asked really good questions for a little guy. Mom figured out our strategy and kept us supplied with books from the library and yard sales. Still, at times there was no escaping my father's rage.
Because my father said we had no living relatives, I made up my own. Other kids talked about their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and I didn't want to be different. I secretly invented a family history and even made a family tree. My fake family became so real in my mind that I began to feel I knew each person. I created detailed stories of family reunions and holiday gatherings. All this I kept secretly tucked in my head where my father could never find it. My imaginary relatives were an island of safety when my father's rage darkened our house.
My uncle, Jacob Sorensen, did not fit on my fake family tree. He was real, and I was expected to live with him. The scary part, the part that keeps me on edge, is that he's my father's uncle, so there's a chance that he might burn with the same violent, short fuse as my father. The thought made me want to run and hide.
"You hungry?" I jumped. Silence had filled the truck so completely that I almost forgot who sat next to me. "Not much between here and the lodge, but we could stop at the Hungry Bear Café up at the junction, if you'd like." Jacob Sorensen's voice sounded friendly.
"Yes, sir. I haven't had anything since breakfast." I wasn't sure if the knot in my stomach was hunger or fear.
The restaurant felt welcoming after hours bouncing along in the truck. Two loggers sat at a bar drinking coffee and talking to a big, ruddy-faced man on the other side of a pass-through to the kitchen. An older woman moved toward our table with a pad in her hand and a twinkle in her eye. She clearly recognized my uncle, but looked me over questioningly.
"What can I get you sweet boys? Just put up some blackberry pie and the coffee's fresh." She had a warm, gentle smile.
"I'd like a burger, a Coke, and a piece of the pie," I said too quickly, and turned to judge my uncle's reaction. "If that's okay?"
"You got to eat, a kid your age." Uncle Jake squinted at the waitress. "Did you make the coffee, or did Lyle?"
"It's safe. I made it myself."
"Good. Bring me a cup of coffee, and I've always got room for a slice of your pie."
After the woman walked away, Uncle Jake explained that the waitress's husband made coffee so strong that no one could get a whole cup down.
The yellow Formica table, worn bare in places, sagged with age. Salt and pepper shakers, a napkin holder, and a catsup bottle nested next to the window as if they had always been there. Rain splattering against the window turned from buckets to showery mist, and the sky lightened. The smell of food made my stomach growl. Although the man who sat across from me did not seem mean or crazy, my chest felt tight and I was starting to sweat. I had to know if Jacob Sorensen was like my father or if he was a man I could trust.
"Are there other people where we're going? I mean, neighbors or a town or something?" I don't know exactly what I expected, but I couldn't picture life alone with this stoic old man.
"It depends on the time of year. In the winter, you can go a while before you ever see another person." He cautiously sipped his coffee. "Warmer weather brings out all sorts of folk." He set his cup down and looked at me. "When you get going in school, you'll make friends."
A rough-looking guy with red suspenders and logging boots dropped coins into the jukebox. Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man" saved the strain of making further conversation. The burger was greasy, salty, and hot. I ate everything on my plate, except for a slab of pickle. When the waitress brought the pie with ice cream, I ate it, too.
Uncle Jake sat considering his coffee. His eyes followed me as I ate. He seemed pleased with how I wrapped my appetite around the food, and I was glad he didn't pepper me with questions.
The warmth of the truck and a full stomach quieted my earlier sense of panic. I was beginning to fall asleep again to the rhythm of the windshield wipers when the truck stopped. Silence filled the cab of the truck. I opened my eyes and a large, old, rustic building loomed before me. The roof and siding, weathered to a soft gray, made the place look like it had been growing on the bluff for years, like an old cedar tree facing the sea. Darkened windows set in faded blue sashes provided the only color, but they showed no warmth or light. The rough, worn shakes that covered much of the building did not seem protection enough against brutal weather. A huge chimney of smooth river rock crawled up the south wall. The building looked abandoned.
Gusty winds rocked the truck as we sat before the sprawling lodge. Rain now fell in rolling sheets, making the skies indistinguishable from the sea beyond. White, frothy foam at the crest of waves gave a faint hint to a blurry focal point. I felt a chill even though the truck's cab was still warm. After riding for hours through century-old trees, meeting only the occasional logging truck, absorbing Uncle Jake's resolute quiet, I feared what might come next. I reached into my pocket and ran my hand over my only connection to home: three smooth stones.
"This is it. You're looking at Clearstone Resort. It's about the last resort of this kind on the Washington coast. When good weather comes, this place hums with paying customers." Uncle Jake paused and then added under his breath, "At least, it used to hum with paying customers."
When I didn't say anything, Uncle Jake studied me. I was looking at the lodge and the ocean beyond. The accident, the lawyers, the bus ride, and my newfound uncle had forced me into this one moment. Sitting in front of an old lodge in the middle of a raging storm, I thought I should be angry or sad about my fate, but all I felt was tired.
Besides, Jake Sorensen was the only relative I had left in the world. I had to give him a chance. "This looks great," I said.
A large porch wrapped around the lodge from front to back. I stood under the protected area, glad to be out of the rain. The depth and size of the porch were welcome in a place where torrential downpours could soak a person in seconds. The roar of the ocean pulled me around the porch, but I felt oddly comforted by the steadiness of its sound.
"Let's get in out of the weather," Jake said, shaking off his hat and running his fingers through his hair. The hinges complained when Uncle Jake swung open the massive front door. Together, we entered the shelter of Clearstone Lodge.
Selah shielded her eyes when I entered her darkened bedroom holding the yellowed tray. I knew the macaroni I served her in a blue, chipped bowl tasted like the carton it came from, but she never seemed to notice. It was one of her favorites. My eyes adjusted slowly to the dimness of the room. Selah kept the shades drawn tightly. She complained if too much daylight seeped into the room when anyone entered, as if she feared the sun's rays would spotlight her pain. She looked at me squint-eyed through a haze of medicated sleep.
"It's just me. I have your dinner. Macaroni with some green peas on the side," I said quietly.
Selah gathered the bedding around her and rose slowly to a sitting position. The smell of unwashed sheets and stale cigarette smoke hung heavily in the air.
"Where's the salt and pepper?" she demanded.
I gave Selah her evening pills and set the salt and pepper shakers on the tray. A rerun of Bewitched droned on the TV at the foot of her bed, but she was not watching it. Instead, her eyes were on me.
"Christina, why don't you dress and behave more like other girls? You act like a boy, not a young woman." Selah's ongoing disapproval continued like a taped story that had been turned off and restarted. When she began a sentence with "Christina," I knew she was about to release some bottled-up criticism. At these moments, she was an unkind stranger—not my mother.
"I'm Crystal, not Christina. You know that very well. You named me Crystal," I said firmly.
I promised myself that I would not get caught in the bizarre perpetual trap of reminding my own mother of my name. My mother knew my name, but in her medicated state, she would call me Christina, or other strange names, for reasons I could never understand. There were days when I didn't mind her calling me by another name and I would pretend her criticism was not directed at me, her only daughter. Other days her words stung like a wasp.
Without waiting for an answer, I silently closed the door. I pulled on my coat and hat, reached for my walking stick, and headed west along the river, welcomed by the pouring rain.
The pure air felt like a tonic after Selah's stale bedroom. I gulped deep breaths. The muddy trail along the river sucked at my shoes. Heavy rains created torrents that chewed at the riverbank as the water raced toward the sea. Smoke from Grandmother's chimney swirled in gusty winds off in the distance. For a moment I thought of going down to visit her, but the ocean bluffs called to me. I wanted to watch the last light of the day on the open ocean and to feel the power of the wind buffeting the trees. These changes were constant, something I could feel and trust.
The rain ran in rivulets, soft and steady, from the front of my hat, creating a comforting Vaseline-smeared landscape. Occasional gusts of wind poked at me, warning of stronger forces building out at sea. I headed for a cave. A low tide left the mouth of the cave open. If I did not watch the creeping tides, I would be trapped. Just as I ducked inside, the floodgates opened. A hermit crab entered with me, stopped, stared at me for a second, and then scurried for shelter under a nearby rock.
"Smart guy. The storm is angry. A good place to hide right now is under a rock." I looked back at the light from the cave entrance and the roaring surf beyond. "You know what? We're not so different, except you're lucky enough to have a shell."
The cave smelled of seaweed, wet wood, and decay. I sat down, leaning my back against the rear wall, closed my eyes, and listened to the storm rage. The violence just outside the cave entrance soothed me with its mad power. I listened to the waves raking the shore, playing counterpoint to the wind.
Sleep lifted me softly away. A healthy Selah entered my dream, humming a song of contentment. Her thick hair braids fell down her back as she busied herself around the kitchen. My father stood nearby, talking casually but with great affection. It was not something I'd ever seen, but somehow, I needed to imagine it as real. If my father were here, Selah would be different. She would be happy and loving. I strained to see his face, but shadows concealed it from view. The dream kitchen held pure light and felt warmer and more inviting than the one I knew. There was no drawn shade, dim lighting, or dingy paint. I wanted the vision to be real. I desperately wanted to jump into this scene with my parents.
Drips down my back awakened me. I shook the water from my felt hat. The hermit crab crawled across the cave floor as the dream faded, replaced by the echo of Selah's words in my mind.
"She wants me to dress like a young woman," I said to the crab. "I'm not even sure what that means or why she says such things. We live by the sea with few people around; this is not Seattle or even Forks. I spend many hours outdoors. My legs would get cold if I had to wear a dress. Besides, if I am forced to act like someone else, how can I know who I am?"
The crab looked at me, and I truly thought for a moment he might answer. I began laughing. The walls of the cave echoed my laughter, which made me laugh even more. The crab quickly sidestepped his way out of the cave, away from the crazy echoes.
I shook my head, wiping the laughter-tears from my eyes. Grandmother's words, not Selah's ranting—that's what I must remember. Grandmother said the salmon could only swim up the stream where she belonged. If you try to fool the salmon and put her in another stream, she will die.
Excerpted from Last Resort by R. L. Spada Copyright © 2011 by R. L. Spada. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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