LORAL COUNTY TIMES: Return to Echo Woods152
LORAL COUNTY TIMES: Return to Echo Woods152
LORAL COUNTY TIMES: Return to Echo Woods is the introductory tale of people, animals, and adventures in fictional Loral County in Missouri. This rural area is a place where normal activities are not exactly as they appear because of a clever elf named Sam, who has hidden agendas and is only visible to a select population. He is especially perplexing to newcomer Audry Merryweather, a young woman who moves to Echo Woods to take ownership of her family’s historical homestead. Here she unwittingly becomes an accomplice in Sam’s efforts to shelter and provide forever homes for animals. But, she is not alone. Sam is quite resourceful and has many allies with diverse talents—everybody from an animal control officer to a youth home coordinator and even a red-tailed hawk. Altogether, they combat bullies, overcome challenges, and provide a community where all can call home.
Woven within this tale are historical and geographical Missouri references that are hyperlinked to web resources. These offer superior supplemental reading materials for students and educators alike. Subtle humanitarian messages regarding animal welfare and culture, as well as Missouri history, make this a value-added book for young readers.
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|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.35(d)|
Read an Excerpt
It was a muggy spring morning and sharp patterns of lightning zigzagged across the cloudy country sky. Squirrels chattered and crows squawked, alerting creatures within a country mile that a storm was brewing, would hit at 12:33 p.m. and last for 37 minutes. A light breeze swept through the long open windows of Audry Merryweather's kitchen and brushed gauzy curtains softly against the freshly scrubbed wooden window frames.
She had awakened early that morning and made a shopping list for her trip to Springfield the next day. She needed to buy new hardware for the old cupboards, paint, new lamp shades, and a cabinet for her music system.
Audry was looking forward to redecorating the old family homestead where she now lived. She had moved in only a couple of months ago, right after her 21st birthday. The place held the best of Audry's childhood memories, and she was devoted to returning it to its original charm and presence in Echo Woods.
As she sat eating her breakfast of biscuits, jam, and creamed sassafras tea, a sudden gust of wind blew open the heavy, creaking kitchen door that led outside. Then, the screen door loudly slammed behind it.
Unannounced, and quick as a flash, a small person, barely taller than the kitchen counter, slipped into the room.
Audry gasped, too frightened to speak or move.
"Hi-ho, don't mind me. I'll just put my things over here, and we can visit," the self-assured intruder said in a lilting voice as he slipped past the kitchen table.
After the shock wore off, Audry jumped up and yelled, "Excuse me! Who are you?!"
Without hesitating, the uninvited visitor calmly replied, "Well, it doesn't really matter now. We'll get acquainted soon enough. But, since you asked, my name is Sutherland Angus MacGregor. I was named after my great-great grandfather Sutherland Angus MacGregor, the first. To some I am Mac, but most of my friends call me Sam. That's short for my full given name. Yes, I know — it's a lot to think about. But, my dear mother thought it would be best for my promoters to give me a proper business name once I became better known for my talents. For now, though, you can call me by my mother's favorite name for me — Sam. She said I reminded her of a charismatic mayor she knew once upon a time by the same name. He also was —"
Immediately, Audry interrupted his rambling introduction. "Talents?" she asked. "Sutherland Angus Macgregor ... Sam??!" With each question, her voice grew louder, until she stamped her foot and asked, "What are you talking about?!!"
BAM!!! A brilliant flash of lightning lit up the kitchen, followed by a crack of thunder that split the sound barrier and silenced the entire county for three seconds.
The house shook, the kitchen windows rattled, and Audry's heart raced! Outside the trees were shaking so badly, she thought for a second they might want to run away.
Audry grabbed the edge of the kitchen counter to steady herself and stared at the strange being in front of her. She had never seen anybody like him before.
Looking into Audry's green eyes, Sam proudly proceeded, "Why yes, let me explain. I am a magician and piper of sorts, and I do many kinds of odd and sometimes strange jobs. A friend of mine at the sheriff's office thought maybe I could help you out, since you haven't lived here very long. I have had many successes in my time in this line of work and have even tamed shrews, werewolves, wild hares and mules, as well as some elements of Mother Nature.
"Here, let me give you my card. It's all there," he offered. And with a slight bow, Sam presented Audry with a business card. Still somewhat shaken, Audry slowly took the card and placed it next to her shopping list.
Confused and shaken, Audry wasn't sure if she was dreaming, or if she was coming down with some kind of bug. But right now, she felt a bit dizzy and slowly slid back down in her kitchen chair.
She barely knew the local population, except for maybe a couple of people that she might have met at the local market or maybe at her job at the legal aid office. And certainly she didn't know anybody with the sheriff's office. Then again, it was a small rural area, and word about newcomers traveled fast.
Audry realized immediately that she could never ever mention this encounter to anybody. She herself barely believed the conversation with Sam had actually taken place, and she was positive nobody else would.
Yet, there he was, having appeared out of nowhere — a male midget of sorts. Little people was the correct term, but Audry wasn't sure whether the reference applied to this person.
He looked like a mature adult but was no taller than a five-year-old child whose ears and nose were odd. A navy blue hunting cap covered his flyaway peach-colored hair. He wore khaki knickers and short buckled boots, which presumably made quick entries and exits easy for him.
He appeared to be well-fed and happy-go-lucky. His sky-blue shirt, with a number of small pockets, matched his eyes, which twinkled when he spoke.
With growing impatience, Audry stood up and exclaimed, "Mac, or Sam, whatever your name, I am not interested! There are no shrews or werewolves around here, and Mother Nature seems to have everything under control. I'm working on many projects right now, and I do not appreciate your intrusion. You can't just barge into my house. Besides, I don't know who you really are!"
Unfazed, Sam nonchalantly continued, "Well, let me assure you, my intentions are purely honorable, and I know there are many tasks needing attention around here. No disrespect, young lady, but those fences have been down for a long time, and the grain bins need to be repaired. And, although you have a grand old barn, the loft has loose boards, and the pump for the well inside is beyond repair. The workshop, stable, and other buildings need their roofs patched, and that old greenhouse wouldn't stand up to a good puff of wind! Absolutely, new paint will put a friendly face on this fine old property. I have some great associates, who'll help me — once I get started."
"But I haven't hired you, and I am doing quite well, thank you very much!" Audrey protested as she continued to study Sam.
Sam gave a quick smile that looked more like a smirk and said, "Well, you see, my work comes as a 'public service' you might say, and it won't take me long. And trust me, you will be more than pleased." Before Audry could speak, Sam quickly slid into a chair at her kitchen table.
"But first I'll need a cup of tea to get me started. And thank you so much!" Sam continued.
Dumbfounded, Audry had no immediate response, but she thought he was right. She did need some help, but this was a lot to think about, and she wasn't sure she could trust this small "good Samaritan" who appeared out of nowhere.
Briefly she thought about grabbing Sam by the seat of his pants and throwing him out the kitchen door. But she decided that wasn't a good idea, because he seemed to be a scrappy type. Instead she moved to the stove to make him a cup of tea. She would show him the door later.
Audry set a cup of tea and saucer down on a napkin in front of Sam. Reaching past the tea, he grabbed two biscuits and the pot of jam. Smiling back at Audry he announced, "Oh, and I could use some ice water after I'm finished with work for today."
The idea that someone so small, intrusive, and rude was sitting in her kitchen, and then demanded to have ice water later, was simply too much for Audry to tolerate.
She grabbed the plate of biscuits and jam pot from the table and crossed the kitchen to store them. When she turned around, intending to tell the intruder he must be on his way, Sam was gone. Without a sound, he had disappeared, though his backpack was still sitting on the floor near the kitchen door.
All that remained on the table was his empty tea cup and some crumbs on a napkin. This was alarming. Where could he have disappeared to so quickly?
Immediately, Audry started searching the roomy old house for him. She looked in the front entry way, the stairwell to the basement, and even the basement itself.
She then searched the family library, her office, the bedrooms, and the stairs leading up to the attic. She looked in the back porch that led to the storm cellar. After a 10-minute search, Audry could not find Sam. Bewildered, Audry stepped back into the kitchen and was startled once again when she heard the screen door slam behind her.
Sam stood smiling at her and declared, "Well, I think you will find that better."
Audry was almost reluctant to hear the answer to her question, but she curtly asked it anyway. "What?" she asked. "What is better?"
"Oh, I took care of that big pile of logs. They're all split and stacked and ready for your fireplace," Sam proudly said.
Audry thought, "Not only is he rude, he's also a fibber!" And to prove her point, she marched to the window intending to show him nothing had changed.
But to her utter astonishment, the mountain of cut timber was gone, and the logs had been split and stacked neatly near the house. How had he done that, so quickly? He wasn't even dirty!
"Wh-a-at? How?" Audry stammered.
Sam looked pleased with himself and said, "Oh, no need to thank me. It was nothing. You will need to get a new axe, though."
Audry was speechless and a bit embarrassed. Finally she said, "Well, I have no idea who you are or how you did that so quickly. But, thank you. I don't understand how you moved those logs by yourself and split and stacked so much wood in —"
Sam interrupted, "You're welcome, but I'll need that ice water now. By the way, here is a list of supplies I'll need to get your place shaped up."
He retrieved a fistful of small sheets of paper from one of his shirt pockets. There were more than a dozen sheets, with items listed on both sides, written in strange, loopy handwriting.
Sam eagerly drank the water Audry had poured for him and started toward the door. Turning back to Audry, he advised, "You shouldn't worry so much, Miss Audry. Good will is everywhere. Sometimes it is just difficult to understand or accept. I'll be back tomorrow. But, it isn't polite to ask a whole lot of questions about charity or a gift. And, again, you're welcome!"
Then, before she could blink, he was gone.
Audry sat down at the kitchen table trying to figure out what she thought had happened. The events were so absurd that she was having doubts. Had she imagined it? Apparently not, because there was the clear evidence of the stacked wood outside, and inside on the table an empty tea cup and a business card. Again, she reminded herself that she certainly could not tell anybody about her visitor or the chopped wood, because nobody would believe her. But who, she wondered, was Sam?
Those ears and nose were like none she'd ever seen before! From a side view, the upper edge of his ear looked like a cartoon drawing of the top of a heart, except it sloped forward. The nose resembled something that had been sculpted from putty by a sculptor who had finished it with a short tug, creating its upturned end.
After going over every detail in her mind to try and make sense of everything, she vaguely remembered a story her grandmother had once told her. The strange events had occurred much farther down south in the state in the Ozark Mountains.
According to her grandmother, nothing really bad had happened, except there were some unexplained mysteries. Vehicles were moved to other locations in the middle of the night, the power went down and the phones quit working. Nobody knew for sure how long the phones or power was out, but everything was back to normal by sunrise the next morning.
Nothing had seemed out of the ordinary at the time except for the appearance of a group of out-of-town visitors. They had stopped at a country store to get a spare tire fixed and buy some horse liniment. The only thing unusual about these customers was the red medicine wagon they pulled behind a large, yellow truck with wooden stock racks. Not many people could recall seeing a real-life medicine wagon before, at least not in that backwoods area. After all, wagons like that mostly turned up near carnivals in larger towns, not in rural areas of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri.
But right before the truck left the store, the clerk noticed a couple of unusually short folks who were smoking pipes, and had scrambled to jump into the truck before it lurched back onto the road. Taking a closer look before they disappeared, he noticed their very quaint ears and noses and realized ... they looked like elves.
Audry wondered if Sam could be a relative of those visitors in the hills so long ago. She thought about checking the old family library the next day to see if maybe there was something written down in an old diary that had been handed down. Unfortunately, somebody had moved many of the old books that used to line the shelves and she had not yet been able to locate them in the old house.
But now, Audry was exhausted from the day's events. Tomorrow she needed to finish up her "to-do" list. And that meant getting what she needed in Springfield. She only had a couple of days left before she had to get back to work on projects for the legal aid office.
At the moment, she needed sleep. With all of the abnormal events of the day, though, Audry tossed and turned, recalling all the events of the day — repeatedly. Suddenly she remembered the card Sam had given her.
"Yes!" she said aloud before drifting off to sleep. In the morning, she would put the card in her wallet for safekeeping. She had a feeling she would need it.
Audry's encounter with an elf was indeed unbelievable. But Loral County, and especially Echo Woods, was never what it appeared to be to outsiders, at least for some outsiders. Its obscure location made it sometimes hard to find, even though it was a narrow and long county right in the heart of Missouri that extended north to south for over 200 miles. On a map, its outline looked most like an eagle's feather. From Echo Woods, it was a good three-day drive to the Pacific Ocean if you went to Joplin and headed west. But visitors to mid-Missouri who wanted to go to Echo Woods were directed by locals to go to Bingville, make a hard left turn at the giant live oak tree, and proceed until the Echo Woods sign appeared. All were assured, "You can't miss it."
For Audry, most of her memories of Echo Woods were associated with the home during her visits to see her grandparents, Levi and Lizzie Merryweather. Originally built in 1880 by Levi's great-great grandfather Jacob Merryweather, the house stood proud and solid. It was surrounded by pastures, timber, and a small branch of icy cold water that flowed through the property.
Audry remembered flying at the age of seven with her parents, Phil and Julie, from southern California to visit her grandparents and her dad's brother, Uncle Mike, at the homestead. Neither her dad nor Uncle Mike wanted to settle around Echo Woods once they were grown. They said it was too boring, but they enjoyed the family visits and some of the rare adventures that occurred. They had chosen much more exciting lifestyles. Her dad, a former Marine, now sought the thrills as a stuntman in Hollywood. And, Uncle Mike was a proud member of the Peace Corps in South America. He helped to build roads and find new markets for the villagers' goods. He had learned new languages and even how to cook exotic foods, including insects.
When she visited Echo Woods as a child, Audry would be greeted by her grandparents with lots of hugs and questions about her school, friends, and surfing at the beach. She really loved her grandmother's thick soft chocolate chip cookies.
Although the cookies were always a delight, she also enjoyed searching for new baby kittens in the barn with her grandfather. He would tell her the latest tales about all the animals that roamed freely on the property, where no hunting was ever allowed. It was like a wilderness preserve that deer, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, a few clumsy opossums, ground hogs, squirrels, hawks, ravens, crows, owls, Canada geese, and every imaginable bird could call "home."
The next morning, Audry overheard Grandpa Merryweather talking to her dad and Uncle Mike about a special rose garden he wanted them to help build for Grandma Merryweather. "She has wanted one for years, and I have just been too busy. How about you boys helping me?" he asked.
"Sure. What do you need us to do?" her father asked.
Uncle Mike jokingly asked, "Do I need to pack a lunch?"
"No, goofy," Grandpa responded. "I just need you to load and haul some of the old rich dirt from the persimmon grove to that spot I've staked off near the side porch. Shouldn't take you very long."
Excerpted from "Loral County Times"
Copyright © 2017 Linda Ferris.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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