A stunning debut novel that offers a new look at a classic love story about soul mates torn apart by the circumstances of their time.
Catrina Dickinson is haunted by her past and feels caged in by life in small town Missouri. When she discovers a strange man in Stone Field where her family grows their sorghum crop, her life takes on new meaning. He has no memory of who he is or what brought him to Cat's farm, but they fall passionately in love. Meanwhile, the country is on the brink of the Civil War, and the conflict in Missouri demands that everyone take a side before the bloodbath reaches their doorstep.
A passionate and atmospheric reimagining of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Stone Field explores how violence and vengeance perverts the human spirit, and how hatred can be transcended by love.
About the Author
Christy Lenzi grew up in the hollows of the Ozarks until her family moved to new York when she turned thirteen. She now lives in California's sunny Central Valley, not far from the mountains, the big trees, and the Pacific Ocean. Stone Field is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Christy Lenzi
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2016 Christy Lenzi
All rights reserved.
I'm a loaded gun.
Henry knows. He thinks he and Jesus can save me from myself.
"Catrina, what you want is discipline." Henry pushes aside the new issue of Farmer's Almanac on the breakfast table instead of picking it up like usual, to show the gravity of the situation. "I know you were wasting time daydreaming in the woods yesterday and up in the cave again last night."
If he knew I wasn't daydreaming but creating my wild work in the woods, it wouldn't make any difference. He'd still call it a waste of time.
"If Father won't tend to you, somebody has to. Whoever heard of a girl roaming up and down the hills at all hours? Look at you — wearing boys' pants and your hair hanging loose and tangled. It's not proper."
I don't give a damn about being proper. It's just a mess of rules that people make up so they can have a say in other people's business. But I don't waste my words on Henry. I tear off pieces of my biscuit and crumble them in my fist while he preaches his sermon. Since Papa's off working in the barn, I'm the only one left in Henry's congregation.
He crosses his arms over his chest, looking at me like I'm dirt on a stick. If the high slant of his cheekbones and the soft curve of his lips didn't belong to our dead mother, I would slap his face. Mother had never minded what I wore and would never have talked to me this way.
"Plenty of girls are courted or already married at seventeen, but there's not a man in his right mind who'd want to chase down and tame a wildcat like you. You should be here at home." He tilts his chin up as he talks so the righteousness he spouts will fall on me like manna from Heaven. "When you feel troubled or restless, you should turn your idle thoughts to the Bible and your idle hands to work. That'll sweep the wickedness out of any girl's heart." He nods, agreeing with himself.
But Henry and Jesus don't know a thing about a girl's heart. And they don't know what it feels like to have a soul bent on wandering through dark places, looking for the missing piece of itself. They can't help me.
"You'll stay home today and set your mind toward improvement." Mistaking my silence for acceptance, Henry opens the Almanac and shuts the invisible door between us. He doesn't realize his words are bullets dropping into the barrel of my soul. I wonder what he'll do if someone pulls the trigger.
Henry didn't always treat me like the enemy. Less than a year ago, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States, and Mother left the land of the living. That's when Henry pulled away from me and Papa, just like the southern states drew away from the Union. Last year, the old Henry had a bright look on his face when I showed him the new weather vane I designed for our barn. Instead of making a horse or a rooster, I made two naked wind nymphs soaring on the breeze, their wings outstretched. Back then Henry didn't call me wicked — he called me clever. Seems ages and ages ago.
I make a decision. If Henry glances at me over the top of the Almanac, I'll smile at him. If he lowers the Almanac and smiles, too, then that means there's a chance we can find our way back to how we used to be before Mother died. I stare hard at the cover of the Almanac and chant inside my head, Look at me, look at me, look at me. I don't take my eyes away from him so I won't miss my chance. But Henry's already forgotten about me. He finishes his coffee, biscuits, and molasses without glancing up.
"I'm traveling to Rolla today to get the papers and see how things are. We should be hearing more about the battle at Lexington by now. Damned Confederates and their Missouri Guard — they're ripping the state in half. And not a hundred miles northwest of Roubidoux Hollow!" He slaps the Almanac down as he shoves away from the table. Dirty dishes are women's work.
Right now I'd rather jump off a cliff than scrape another plate, churn another tub of butter, or scrub one more load of wash. A lump grows in my throat and I can hardly swallow. When the back door shuts behind Henry, I stretch my arm across the table and slide it over the surface in a great wave. The wave pushes the Almanac and the clattering tin plates and cups over the edge like God sweeping the Egyptians into the Red Sea. They tumble to the floor with a crash. I step over them and out the door. By the time Henry gets a quarter of the way to Rolla, I'll be sitting on top of the world in a place where dishes, Bibles, and battles don't exist.
* * *
The fresh scent of rain and wet cedar fills the air from a late-night shower that scrubbed the earth clean. It's September, that twilight month between the heat of summer and the chill of autumn. In my mind I think of it like Missouri, the hazy border between the northern and southern states. They are uncertain, in-between times and places that aren't quite one thing or the other. Yet.
I part the bushes at the edge of the ravine, and a small flock of thistle birds takes flight. The flutter of their wings sets the pace of my heart. A rush of cold dank air from the cleft in the rock lifts the hairs on my arms and finds its way under my clothes like icy fingers. I shiver and close my eyes, imagining the lonesome spirit of a dead man sliding its hands over my body, beckoning me inside the cave like a long-lost lover. The rim of the cave is as high as my hips, but I pull myself up easy without any fool skirts to tangle my legs.
The cave's main tunnel is long and winding and leads to my secret place, a small opening high in the bluff overlooking Roubidoux Hollow. Henry doesn't understand the darkness that settles over me, and why I need to come here, but Papa does. When Papa needs to escape his pain, he locks himself in his study with the books Mr. Lenox orders for him — they come all the way from St. Louis. Most people in Roubidoux only read if they have to — the Almanac, the newspaper, or the Bible sometimes — but Papa has always had his stories and poetry, and I have my tunnel to the sky.
Henry doesn't open Papa's books or climb into my cave to learn where it goes because he doesn't own the patience or curiosity for it. Not anymore, anyway. Ever since Mother died, he doesn't like to think too hard about anything he doesn't understand. If he can't wrap his mind around an idea in a heartbeat or see all there is to see of a thing in a glance, he can't abide it. That's why he's turned cold toward me — he knows I'm a quiet cave with secret tunnels and open rooms beneath my stone face — dark places he doesn't want to find. And Lord, how I want to be found. I ache for it. But not by a coward like Henry. I want someone who will climb right into me and explore every inch, knowing they might never find their way out.
I breathe in the smell of cool wet rock and mud as I crawl in the dark to my secret place. Nobody knows about it but me. Well, a couple years ago, Frank Louis, who's older than me and mean enough to bite himself, followed me to the cave opening without me knowing. But I threw rocks at him and he ran away bleeding. Now I make sure nobody follows me.
I creep up through the muck and mire till I see a blue spot of shining sky. When I reach the opening on the edge of the high bluff, I lean against the damp wall of the tunnel. No one can see me way up here. Cold water drips from the top ledge onto my eyelid and slides down my cheek.
The gray snaky curves of Roubidoux Creek glint silver as the sun climbs over the hills. The stream winds around the slope of Hudgens Cemetery and slips through our cedar grove toward Stone Field, where our sorghum cane grows.
But I don't look at the grove or the field. Today I see only the cemetery.
My eyes linger on Mother's small mound of earth. Last night when I went there, a silver-dollar moon floated over the graveyard, casting black shadows and blue light around her grave marker. I considered getting a shovel and digging a tunnel down to her coffin. I wanted to break it open and crawl in beside her like I used to climb into her bed after I had a bad dream. Even though her arms are cold and stiff now, I still want them around me. I want to believe she forgives me for being the one who killed her. Papa says it was an accident. But I was still the cause of it. That was the day my darkness settled over me.
I thought about throwing myself in the ground with her. But it wasn't the fear of going down into the grave that kept me from getting the shovel — I was afraid I might decide to never come back up. And I don't want to break what's left of Papa's heart.
Soon the worms that have slipped into her coffin will chew her body into dirt. I imagine them crawling through her crow-colored hair that looks like mine and eating away her lovely skin that was once smooth and white as a new-laid egg. My friend Effie Lenox thinks I shouldn't say such things. I said, if the truth is wrong, then what the Hell is right? Effie thinks I should imagine Mother in the next world, Heaven, dancing around on streets of gold. I love Effie and know she's sharp as needles, but that's bull.
When I die, I'd rather wake up here inside this world, become a part of it like the roots of the black walnut trees. Like the wild pawpaws and persimmons with their sweet smell as they rot in the ground, turning back into dirt, becoming something different, something new. I'd be the creek water that changes into mist and lingers in the hills, then rains on the fields, trickling down into the cracks where all the seeds hide. I don't want to leave this world. I want to go deeper into it.
Two hawks swoop over the rocky ledge above. They call to each other like old friends or lovers and glide in circles together over the valley, picking out their breakfast down below. Their hungry cries pierce me near the heart in the spot behind my ribs where my loneliness festers. Watching them soar side by side makes the wound throb, and I screech my own wild birdcall into the sky. It ricochets off the hills.
Then, down below in Stone Field, someone returns my birdcall. I about jump out of my skin. When I look toward the sorghum crop, my heart stops beating. I forget how to breathe. I'm struck like a slap to the cheek when I see the field.
I blink, but it's not my imagination. Great swirling lines curve and spiral through the rows of stalks as if God's played a boys' game, drawing giant circles in the cane field with His finger. The design stretches across five acres, as if it were meant to be seen from somewhere up high. It's beautiful and terrible at the same time. I wonder — did I make it myself when my mind was too dark last night to think straight? I don't think so. What does it mean?
My breath escapes me. A stranger sits on the black boulder in the middle of Stone Field, surrounded by cane. He's naked as Adam and Eve. And he's staring straight at me.CHAPTER 2
Our dog Napoleon starts barking from the edge of the cane, warning Papa about the man in the field. Soon all our dogs join in. Their urgent voices bounce off the hills and crisscross over the hollow, howling for Papa to get his gun.
I scurry back through the tunnel like a mole on fire. But the cave floor is slick, and I fall flat on my stomach, scraping the side of my head against the wall. I push the hair out of my face with my wet hands and crawl the rest of the way out. I race toward the field. Mud coats me like a second skin, drying and cracking as I run. I push myself faster so I can get there before Papa finds out what the stranger did and shoots him dead.
But when I round the hill, Papa's already standing in front of the field, ramming black powder and a bullet down the barrel of his gun. The stalks are too high for him to know about the crop design. He sees only a gap in the rows like a path entrance cut into the cane. He steps into the opening.
He glances over his shoulder. "Where've you been, Cat? Looks like the dogs dragged you under the porch."
"There's a man in Stone Field."
Papa pulls the hammer half-cocked and slips the cap into place.
I keep walking, hoping I can get ahead of him, into the gap. "But he doesn't need shooting — he needs dressing. And feeding, most likely."
Papa pauses as he holds the rifle. "I'll take care of this, Catrina. Get to the house."
"I can't." Something pulls me to the center of the field like iron to lodestone. I push the barrel of Papa's gun aside and pass by him, but at the last second, I grab it from his hands and run ahead of him into the narrow maze.
"Damn it, Cat!" Papa barks like the dogs at his heels. "Careful!" His heavy footsteps follow me into the gap.
The path is smoother than I thought. Padded. The stalks haven't been cut or removed, just bent near the bottom and pressed to the ground. The man didn't destroy any of Papa's cane. A path splits off to the left, but I keep going. I imagine myself moving through the design I saw from the bluff. Papa's footsteps hesitate behind me at the division, and I push my legs faster, trying to reach the bend ahead. As soon as it curves, a narrow branch splits off to the right and I take it.
My heart beats my blood so hard it comes thumping on my eardrums begging for mercy. The sharp blades of the cane slash my face and arms, but I keep running. Napoleon leads the other dogs to follow Papa past the split, away from me. They're headed into a spiraling circle. Papa's curses ring out from the northwest corner of the field when he realizes it's a dead end, but I'm almost to the black rock in the center of Stone Field.
I slow down when I hear singing. It comes from up ahead — a deep rumbly voice:
"Come, live with me and be my love
And we will all the pleasures prove
And if these pleasures may thee move
Then live with me and be my love."
The tune's strange, but I've read those words somewhere before, in one of Papa's books. His low voice sends a chill curling up my spine like a snake slithering up a pole.
I stop walking and peer through the stalks, straining for a glimpse of the stranger. For a moment I think I see him, his head and shoulders above the tall cane only a dozen paces away. I stumble several steps before I realize it's only the scarecrow that Henry put up last March.
"There will I make thee beds of roses
With a thousand fragrant posies
A cap of flowers and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle."
As soon as I round the bend, I see him — a madman, sure as I'm born. He's naked and pacing around the rock like a restless mountain cat. I never saw a man with no clothes on before, and I can't stop staring at the parts of him I'm not supposed to see. He doesn't seem to notice. But even the parts of him that aren't private, like the place where the line of his neck turns into the slope of his shoulders, look like holy things that only gods and angels should be allowed to look at. I've never seen anyone as beautiful as him.
He's not much older than me. Little leaves twine through his black tangled hair, which hangs in his face and covers the back of his neck. His skin's neither pale like mine, nor midnight black like Effie's. He's dark but golden, like a copperhead glistening in the sun. I want to touch his sleek skin to feel if it's hot or cold. I want to see if he'll strike me like a snake. Lord, I'm mad as he is.
The stranger's voice rumbles like wheels on a gravelly road, traveling straight to me.
"A belt of straw and ivy buds
With coral clasps and amber studs
With gray feather of the dove
Oh, live with me and be my love."
He stops singing and turns his head toward me. I look up quick from glancing at his private parts, and his wild eyes meet mine. They speak a foreign language, but I understand it clear as day — they can see straight through me to the inside. They tell me I'm more naked than he is and the secret things inside my heart are showing.
The shock of it sends a thrill through my body that feels like both pleasure and fear. I've always wanted someone to look at me that way, but I never knew it would be so dangerous. My fingers remember the gun they clutch. The little hairs on my neck lift the way they do when there are lightning charges in the air from an approaching storm, but the sky is cloudless. I raise the rifle and point it at the madman's chest. "Who the Hell are you?"
He doesn't blink. He steps forward, as if the gun's an invitation, not a warning, and stands five paces from me. "'We know what we are, but know not what we may be.'"
Excerpted from Stone Field by Christy Lenzi. Copyright © 2016 Christy Lenzi. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
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.