Missing the Mark

Missing the Mark

by John W. Ridley

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Vivid memories of life in Margaret Anns isolated home are woven into the fabric of her life, creating a spellbinding sequence of events that alternately exhibit hope, humor, sadness, and horror, accompanied by an omnipresent atmosphere of danger lurking at every turn. Some danger is imaginary, but often, events are accompanied by dire risks with extreme consequences. Never without ambition, she bravely faces many challenges while forging security for her family. Seeking to overcome fears and dangers and doubting at times whether events are mere coincidence, she solves an accidentally discovered puzzle. Successfully insulating her family from harm until they leave home, she tries to escape danger by making a drastic move. But mysterious foes pursue her regardless of where she travels. Feeling forced to return to her roots, she miraculously learns the ultimate truth and is rewarded in the end.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781489710604
Publisher: LifeRich Publishing
Publication date: 01/10/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 310
File size: 617 KB

About the Author

A son of the Appalachians and born of humble means, the author early in life voraciously absorbed the customs, folklore, and memories of characters of the region. Ambition prohibited his succumbing to the lifestyle prevalent in the region, regardless of the people and beauty of the land. Fortified with ambition but few resources, the author left the familiarity of the only home he had known following high school. Naive and ill-equipped, he was left to face a world fraught with challenges.

Few have experienced the breadth of the author’s background of military, medical, and educational occupations, with publication of several prior books as a backdrop. Uniquely molding characters to fit characters he grew up with, he is singularly equipped to write from memories of mountain life and belief systems. This background, coupled with memories of love, war, and dangerous experiences, contributes to the human touch of this book, resulting in a unique style and voice.

Read an Excerpt


Life is a voyage, beginning at birth. It is a quiet struggle due to the accident of birth and associated variables, about which one can do little or nothing. Often it escalates into a series of skirmishes or total war, though not with conventional weapons. Accrued circumstances may be an advantage or disadvantage, dependent upon the advantages they sometimes confer. An individual is identified by name and geographic location but specific experiences of life color each individual and are the elements that differentiate one life from another.

Nothing much ever happened here in these mountains, and it was a rare occurrence when one who broke from the mold and against odds 'amounted to something' through education or seizing opportunities away from these mountains. During the hostilities called the Vietnam War, troops of the US and its sparse Allies were arrayed against the Viet Cong and Chinese. But a more formidable foe, the hippies, were leaving their mark and waging war, marching to a nonmilitary drummer. Their uniforms for the day did not approximate any worn by a host of combatants over the centuries and millennia. This significant group of contestants ascribed non-traditional nomenclature to the conflict and fought against police, returning troops, and any who differed with their opinion of the conflict. These traitors were declared defacto winners by many.

It was in the late-sixties when Margaret Ann graduated from high school, following the Tet offensive. She had resided in these ageless Appalachian Mountains since birth, other than a brief stint in Detroit. Very little tumult in opposition to the war was evident here as in larger cities. A few of the local boys grew their hair long as did the hippies on Haight-Ashbury. Some girls ironed their hair long and straight, but few evolved into full-fledged hippies. If they did deviate significantly from life practiced here, they quickly became emigrants to other parts of the country more accepting of their lifestyle. Most locals opposed the hippies and stood for God and Old Glory, a group accused of suffering from necks as red as a turkey's 'hind end at settin' time. But today the war was far from Margaret Ann's mind, though tombstones of the area's fallen youth dotted the cemeteries.

As she lay, eyes half closed and lightly dozing, the feet of a fly on her face evoked a sensation all out of proportion to its insignificant bulk. Searching aimlessly, the small creature brought her from her reverie to full wakefulness, tracing a disorganized, roughshod yet timorous path across her unfurrowed brow. Impatiently brushing the fly away, she saw through the window screen that the eastern sky was brightening, heralding the rising sun. The glowing orb, hidden behind Tamassee Knob, reflected a dim light off the light clouds hovering over the horizon, awakening the world on schedule. She couldn't remember being allowed previously to be as lazy as today.

Inexplicably, Margaret Ann had awakened to vague, unspecified feelings. Then she remembered! In a dream, she had relived a vision of the wizened face of a gypsy at the county fair two years ago. A visit to the fair was a rare experience for her and there were precious few breaks from a monotonous existence in these parts. A friend had dared her to enter a fortune teller's tent and burdened by a fundmentalist background, she viewed fortune tellers as having alliance with Beelzebub. But after a moment's hesitation, she had swallowed her fears, hesitantly paying her quarter.

After taking her seat, the gypsy motioned her to a chair. The sunken black eyes, framed by a seamed brown face, peered at her over a giant crystal ball. When her eyes dropped to the ball, she did not speak immediately. Suddenly her face registered fear and her brown face blanched as she peered into the ball. Her raspy voice could hardly be heard as she whispered portentous words, "Beware the angry man!"

Then the gypsy silently handed the quarter back to Margaret Ann, dismissing her with a backward wave of her hand. Margaret Ann could have sworn the gypsy was frightened as was she. Had she entered into league with the devil? This experience would often invade Margaret Ann's mind unbidden, though she didn't believe the nonsense of predicting the future. Or did she? The words returned at times, and she was subconsciously unable to dismiss the warning.

For certain she never mentioned this incident for fear of ridicule from others, not even after seeing her waiting friend's questioning gaze. Why had this dream arisen now? Was it a prediction of her future? She forced the thought from her mind, attributing it to the uncertainty of leaving the only home she knew and the advent of an uncertain path. But the memory persisted vaguely in the background of her mind and like elevator music, played repetitiously.

A strong desire to pursue unspecified goals had consumed Margaret Ann for weeks prior to graduation. Although feeling compelled to contribute to household chores, she was reluctant to move from her bed. An inbred compulsion to rise before sunup dies hard. For as long as she could remember, she had beaten the sun, depending somewhat on the season, from bed and assumed her tasks. Today she experienced inertia. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak, she once heard a preacher say, matching today's feelings. This disquieting feeling independent of the gypsy's prophesy was fear of an uncertain world ahead, a warning beacon clanging loudly.

Margaret Ann thought about this and things she would never again experience. Her decisions would be permanent. Sighing audibly, she hoped life's changes brewing on the horizon were less tempestuous than the mountain storms of summer. A future of sound and fury, signifying nothing, as immortalized by Shakespeare, might be her fate. But was danger in her future? Avoiding a stay-home career, caring for children, something she had already experienced with her siblings, led her to seek pastures in another venue.

Although her mother thought finding a mate early in life a priority, it was far down Margaret Ann's list. In a region where pickings were slim, she had not found a male with the power of persuasion to could make her feel differently. She felt she would be 'settling' with the limited menu available, relegating her to a continually isolated lifestyle deep in the mountains. So far, she had routinely rebuffed the clumsy advances by any self-identified Romeo or an Adonis.

From her bed the stutter of the cheap dime-store metal blinds with simulated wood grains mimicking expensive plantation shutters disturbed the utter silence. Flimsy organza curtains stirred gently in vagrant morning breezes, as though urging her to action. In only two months the children would return to school. But she would be gone by then. The familiar routine of riding the yellow bus with hissing air brakes, her fate for twelve years, was history.

The room's setting, accented by furniture of a bygone era, orchestrated by the solo sound from the wind-harassed window devices, was humble. She could see nature's quarters adorned in a fashion never duplicated by man through the windows beyond the confines of her room. The eastern sky, planed by flocks of broken and streaked clouds were narrower and deeper pink nearest the horizon and wider toward the sky's dome, yielding to a gradual ocher color. To the west the sky transitioned into darker hues almost indistinguishable from the tree-lined hills.

The house stood in a low-lying area of land, protected by mountains in all directions. At the beginning and end of each day the house was shadowed by mountains, shortening the transition from day to night and night to day. It was cool and dark in these hollows even during daytime. Occasionally incandescent blooms of the abundant dogwood trees were still sparsely revealed in the deepest hollows during early June.

Still she had no answers for an avenue out of the area unless. .... unless. ... something unexpected happened. With a sigh, Margaret Ann rose, sitting on the edge of her bed, realizing no answer to her quandary would be quickly forthcoming. Physically well-endowed in most respects, she was small-bosomed which bothered her occasionally, but a wasp-thin waist enhanced her upper body, suggesting a more buxom anatomy. Looking in the mirror, she saw that the face endowed her was pleasing to others. She possessed a wholesome look, making her stand out from other girls, but remembered her Carolina granny's assertion that beauty is only skin deep.

Reaching for a hairbrush, she forced an unruly forelock to the side. Cut to a medium length, her face was outlined by coarse slightly wavy black hair, thanks to Indian heritage. Beautiful even white teeth and regular features pleasingly coordinated with her overall appearance. Margaret Ann possessed a remarkably beautiful set of wide-spaced eyes, sparkling and warm. Many residents in Upstate Carolina and Georgia also exhibited similar features of dark slightly-slanted gray eyes, complemented by almost raven-colored hair. This combination of European and Asiatic-appearing features from Indian forebears sometimes lent a somewhat exotic appearance.

Her father, chiefly Cherokee, was born across the Chattooga River in the foothills of Carolina, considered Indian Territory until the Trail of Tears separated family members from those left behind in the late 1830's. Talk of visiting their Oklahoma kin abounded, but never went beyond the planning stage. Another historical event preying on minds of Southerners in these parts was that of the War of Northern Aggression but not in order of precedence presented here.

For the past year of high school, Margaret Ann had felt restless, chafing at the confines of a secluded home. She became increasingly aware of dissatisfaction in pursuing a typical woman's role. Today, she felt keenly in every fiber that she had greater potential than could be realized by continuing in her present circumstances. Her thirst for diverse experiences not offered here suffused her with an inexplicable longing. What would she inherit by radically departing from a life with which her contemporaries were content? Danger, discontent or worse? Or better?

Her father contended she had wanderlust, a malady he had suffered early in life. But the US Navy had cured him, and he came back to his roots. On the other hand, Margaret Ann felt she could never return, as Thomas Wolfe so aptly put it, "One can never go back!" Her father had enlisted in the Navy ten years after the Korean Conflict. And her mother, from the Yakima Nation of the Great Pacific Northwest, was no stranger to pulling up stakes, seeking a new life. Her father, after a few detours following his Navy stint, spent a year in Detroit but came back to the connecting corners of Georgia and South Carolina. After suffering an abbreviated and unsatisfying stint in a cotton mill, he returned to his mountains.

A cold knot of fright invaded her stomach this morning, when pondering the loss of the safety of her home and entering an unfamiliar, potentially nefarious world. But she knew she would not be dissuaded. Completing high school was the first planned step into the future she envisioned. Beyond that, she must make decisions for fulfilling unspecified dreams. And her self-confidence, eroded by doubt, was now riddled by undefined vocational goals.

An inventory of memories continued to kaleidoscope through her mind. Sounds of her father daily departing uncomplainingly for work shortly after dawn each day in his battered 1956 GMC pickup reverberated in her ears. She envisioned him with lunch in a reused, grease-stained bag accompanied by a thermos of black coffee. Also, she would miss working at his side on the farm.

Finally, willpower triumphed over inertia, and she sat up, donned an old T-shirt and faded jeans hanging over a ladder-back chair nearby. After slipping into a worn pair of sneakers, she found the customary fare of lumpy grits with butter, bacon with congealed grease and toast in the kitchen. The old wood stove providing heat for warmth and cooking had been recently replaced, avoiding the year-round chore of satisfying the stove with its insatiable appetite for split seasoned wood.

Margaret Ann as the eldest had responsibility up to now for ten siblings, common in this region. This was the lot of Southern girls from large families. Many mothers here spent much of their time gestating and lactating on an annual cycle for a decade or so. After eating, she assumed a share of chores, knowing she would miss the routine but not sorry to gain a more diverse schedule.

Family ties were strong here, so reminiscing as she worked, she remembered Aunt Lizzie as one to respond with country wisdom in many situations. On one occasion Aunt Betty, a Yankee from Philadelphia and wife of Lizzie's brother, visited the family. Betty, a nurse, noticed one child had whooping cough. She asked, "Lizzie, did you know Winston has whooping cough?" "Yep," Aunt Lizzie responded laconically, saying she had 'figgered' he did. Aunt Betty replied, "You aren't sending him to school to spread the disease, are you?" Aunt Lizzie remarked that, yes, he was being sent to school because that's where he caught it!

The family was isolated, so little socialization occurred except for sporadic visits to country churches. Her mother was Catholic, possibly explaining the eleven offspring. Since Catholic churches were scarce as hens' teeth in the rural South, her mother was not a church member. Her father subscribed to no official religion, never discussing things spiritual, but did have a generic sense of morality centered on nature, perhaps derived from Indian ancestors. She and her siblings were free to develop their own beliefs and theology based on a smattering of sectarian dogma.

But certain practices found in some churches she shunned from the beginning. Occasional visits to rural, Calvinistic churches led to drawing the line on snake-handling activities that abounded at some isolated sanctuaries. Rattlesnakes were the favorite species designated as objects of worship for practical reasons. These serpents are the most dangerous but convenient type at disposal in the region where a decided scarcity of Biblically-sanctioned adders existed. So, God would understand the substitution, the parishioners rationalized. The rattlers in general were of a nervous disposition and psychologically fragile. Afterward when snakes made an appearance, Margaret Ann always yearned for the benediction.

Along with staunch religious practices, people of her ancestry developed fierce independence born of resourceful and diverse cultures. This spirit was on graphic display in the Civil War, or War of Northern Aggression, where their adopted lifestyle persisted with little change during the war. They were loath to fight against the Federals, with few slaves in the region. These independent farmer-hunters considered the struggle a rich man's war. Distrust of the government also extended to those with significant Cherokee ancestry and loss of their land.

A relative, family ties lost in the mist of time, was Adam Ridell. Adam's duty as a sentry prompted him to melt into the hillsides as he had done earlier while hunting. On one occasion the Federals came over the hills where he was posted in a tree, sniper rifle in hand. Upon hearing approaching footsteps, he patiently watched until a blue-clad youth replete with blue uniform and Spencer carbine came into his line of vision. Lowering the sights until they were cross-haired on the chest of the soldier, he saw a mere boy instead of an enemy soldier. Adam silently raised the barrel skyward and allowed the youth who never knew he was in danger to pass safely.

Adam thought himself old at twenty-four and was aged beyond his years. Conscripted against his will, he campaigned in Petersburg, Cold Harbor and Chickamauga, his tenure ending at Appomattox, after four straight years without a scratch. No one ever explained how he appeared in Virginia after plying the hills of the Carolinas and Georgia. Adam never disputed those telling the tale, so the truth died with him. There was some conjecture that he had deserted the army to carry on a private mountain-born vendetta. After accomplishing his goal, he miraculously reappeared with the 29th South Carolina Infantry, as if nothing had happened. But circumstances revolving around this apparently unofficial rotation of venues went to the grave with Adam.


Excerpted from "Missing The Mark"
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Copyright © 2019 John W. Ridley.
Excerpted by permission of LifeRich Publishing.
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