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|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
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DAMP CHILL SEEPS THROUGH my jeans from the rotting wood porch stairs of The What Not Shop. There are three places to sit where you won't fall through. I've put in my hours waiting for customers, so I know exactly where to plant myself. Green to breathe is everywhere. Ferns up to your armpits and sorrel the size of lollipops poke through the needles and leaves and duff of the forest floor. Redwood trees stand like silent beasts all around, two-cars wide and tall enough to poke holes in the sky. Hurts my brain trying to make sense of that much size and age, eight hundred years old at least, and how they stand so still and silent. Even the sound of my breathing is loud, like I'm some party crasher busting in on an ancient séance, messing with the vibe.
Porch floorboards creak under the weight of Gramps rocking in his rocker that he calls the Throne. One hand grips the arm of the chair, the other wraps around a beer, and a knot in his jeans hangs just below his knee in the space where his leg used to be. He stares off toward the old two-lane highway where the redwoods grow into the road, busting up the edges of the pavement bit by bit, like they've let us borrow the land for long enough and now they want it back.
We sit this way sometimes, he and I.
Three hours to go before my slow-as-sin shift will end and Liza and I can hightail it up to Eureka in her parents' car that she's not supposed to drive. Her parents are away for the weekend, so we're golden. Liza swears the older guys we met last time said to meet them at The Shanty, but I think she's just making it up as an excuse to get us back there. The dude who was into her was supremely hot, so you can't blame her. She fixed her traction-beam-laser-stare on him and sure enough he made his way over to buy her a drink. I swear it's her super power. All she has to do is tilt her forehead down a little, look up and fix her eyes on someone, blink a few times, and curl her lips into a kind of half-smile. Nine times out of ten, and I've counted, the victim does whatever she wants. We get into all the bars that way. "Shhh!" she'll say when she's pulling someone into her orbit. "I'm magnetizing." I try to magnetize, but all I pulled into my orbit last time was some guy named Twiggy, which just about sums it up.
There's definitely nothing to magnetize here. Tree-stump sculptures shaped like giant eagles or Bigfoot stand in tight rows in between the shop and the road along with burl tables and chairs and stools made from knobby redwood growths. Gramps's buddies at the mill haul over giant chunks leftover from logs they cut, and some chainsaw artist makes all kinds of hardwood weirdness. Gramps decided trees owed him something after a tree someone else was cutting on a job fell the wrong way and pinned him. It broke his pelvis in three places, broke ribs, and smashed his leg so bad he had to lose it. He used his disability money to buy this hundred-year-old soda fountain turned junk store and tourist trap and set the tree sculptures next to the road. "To lure in the nincompoop city slickers," he said.
It's not right having chopped-up pieces of glossed-over tree sitting in the middle of the last old-growth redwood grove for miles, but I know better than to say anything like that out loud around here. I'm just the lucky hack that works the register after school and on weekends. No one pays me for my opinions. No one really pays me at all, actually. Not that much.
The truth is, Twiggy was a whack job. He pretended like he was going to kiss my hand like he was a duke and I was some princess and I was all gaga, like I'd actually magnetized something good, but then he shoved my fingers into his mouth and chomped on them and laughed like it was the funniest thing. Psycho. Just watch. When we go back I'll get stuck with crazy while Liza disappears to who-knows-where for who-knows-how-long. I'll do it anyway because the guys in town are dogs or I've known them my whole life and making out with any of them is like making out with your own brother and just the thought of it makes me gag. So I'm Eureka-bound to ace magnetizing. Desperate times and desperate measures and all that.
Or I could go see Peter. There's always Peter.
Uncle Nelson hauls a box out of his pickup from today's run buying up what's on sale at other stores in the area to bring back here to sell. Another one of Gramps's grand plans to make money off of the redwood-gawkers. Nelson tilts the box on its side to maneuver between an outstretched wood wing of an eagle and the arm of a bear, yakking as he squeezes his way through to where we sit on the porch. He won't shut up about who's to blame for the holdup on the logging job he's on.
"Why hold things up so I can't work?" he yells to Gramps. "I'm not making the rules about what gets cut! I'm just bidding on the goddamn jobs trying to make my living! Don't they know that?" He drops his box by my feet when he finally makes it through the wood menagerie. A corner of the box crumples under the fall, but he doesn't care. He's already six beers into Sunday and its only noon.
One at a time I slide back and up the stairs just to get out of arm's reach. Nelson's the kind of guy who punches you in the arm when you least expect it and tells you he's just testing your reflexes. Mine suck. The last punch landed like a super-powered tetanus shot and it was all I could do not to cry. Not to mention that there's an edgy mad in his voice today that feels like it's looking for a place to bust out. Like words won't be strong enough to hold it.
What I hear in the words people say, I swear.
"Since when did working an honest day make me the bad guy?" Nelson spits and tucks a thumb into the pocket of his dirty Carhartts and glares up at Gramps, waiting for him to join in the rant against whoever is trying to stop the loggers from doing their job this time. It's usually crackpot environmentalists suing the lumber companies or hippies sitting in the trees so they won't get cut. Nelson's sure it's the hippies this time. He scratches his head through his bright orange wool hunter hat. Clumps of brown hair poke out from under his hat like sticks.
Gramps takes a long pull on his beer, his one leg rocks him, and his arm crutches dangle on the back of the rickety rocker. "This land is full of the blood and sweat of everyone I know," he says, looking out at the woods like he owns them. The Throne is where Gramps likes to sit and get 'sophical. "I got more time under my belt and dirt in my boots from these woods than a whole busload of those dirtbags combined and they think they know how to take care of the land?" Gramps has it in for the hippies, too.
The sound of a truck reaches us through the fog. Not one single ray of sunshine has managed to break through the heavy gray that sits on Humboldt County like a wet blanket too many days a year. Indian summer should have given us a break already, but it skipped us this fall. The glow of fog lights turns into an old pickup that pulls in and parks.
"How's it goin' Bud?" Gramps yells from the Throne. "Where you hurtin' today?"
Bud hangs on to the car door to haul himself out of the driver's seat. "Hank, Nelson, Jade," he says. Everything about Bud is big and thick — his chest, arms, neck, the skin on his face. Even his eyelids are thick.
This is officially my cue because not only does Bud always hug me for five seconds too long, but he's also a talker and there's no way I'm getting stuck in some conversation about god knows what. Lawn mowers. The extraction mechanism in a dehumidifier. The chicken wire and spit he says he uses to fix every single thing that he has supposedly ever fixed in his entire life.
"Hey, Bud," I yell, careful now to step where the stairs aren't rotten. My escape is so smooth. "Gotta change the record!" Johnny Cash's honey-gravel twang floats from the record player inside. He's shot a guy in Reno for probably the sixteenth time today. Just to watch him die. Jee-zus.
The plate glass window reads what not across the middle in big, blocky brown letters I painted on when it was slow one day.
"Hey, Bud!" Nelson's voice follows me through the screen door. "What's red and orange and looks good on hippies?" Forever lame jokes.
"What?" Bud says.
"Fire!" Nelson laughs and then coughs. His laugh always turns into a cough.
The round and round of the record matches the round and round of the talk that's just getting started. They beat everything to death. Complaining. Stories. Jokes about hippies that maybe aren't really jokes at all.
Liza and that car cannot come soon enough.
So long as they don't start talking forced extractions and dragging hippies out of the trees, it's all just talk. Someone's got to put an end to all this, is what they said before when things got bad. So long as it doesn't come to that.
The old wide-plank floor creaks under my feet, and the fridge motor rattles. Wooden shelves are lined with essentials like chips, onion dip, soda, cigarettes, beer, condoms, "lady things," and toothpaste. The rest are half full of the crap Gramps buys up — playing cards, shot glasses, extra fishing line and cheap pocketknives made in China that George from the tackle shop can't seem to move.
Cardboard boxes from this morning's run sit unpacked on the floor where Dad dropped them earlier. He took the porch stairs two at a time with three boxes in his arms. Mom curses him for not aging a day since high school except for the little gray hairs at his temples. He's still lean, broad in the shoulders, and no belly yet. "It's a mean day's work," he says about logging every time he's stretched in his worn-out recliner after his shift, "but it keeps me fit."
Nelson watched him work, grabbed Dad's coffee thermos, and poured himself a cup. He took a sip and spit it out on the ground. "Damn it, Stanley, you drink hot oil for breakfast?" he yelled up to where Dad dropped the boxes with a bang to the floor.
Dad didn't wait for Nelson's comeback, but cut across the porch and down the stairs to go around back for another load. "I want to be awake during the day, Nellie, not some lollygagging half-wit like some losers I know," he said as he passed. It was too early and Nelson was not caffeinated or drunk enough for fighting, so he wiped his mouth with the back of his arm and mumbled something underneath his breath.
"Is Dad still here or is he out for another run?" I yell to Gramps, but he's so busy getting into it with Bud and Nelson over who to blame that he doesn't bother to respond.
"The holdup could be coming from that corporation down in Texas, Hank. You know that." Bud makes his case to Gramps. "You know they're trying to buy the Skatio Lumber Company and this old town right out from under us. You heard that, right? Well, that's a very real possibility, Hank. We can't assume anything right now."
Johnny Cash sings about how good it is to see the green green grass of home, and in a direct beeline out past all their yakking, on the other side of the tree stumps by the parking lot, a group of redwoods stands in a circle. There are ways to get over there without being seen. When the time is right I could slip out the back door, behind the side shed, and it's two steps until I'm smack in the middle of the so-quiet and so-long-alive. Lying there on the soft ground takes me somewhere else. That's all I need to block out all the noise. I swear.
Nelson stands at the bottom of the porch stairs and takes a deep drag on his cigarette. "If those tree huggers want to sit somewhere, then they should go sit on the face of that ceo. Chain themselves right to him. Now that might change some things!" Nelson laughs at his sheer brilliance. "I'm gonna get me that bumper sticker. You know it?" Smoke comes out of his mouth in puffs with each word. "It says, 'Save loggers. Cut down hippies.'" He laughs again, his hand still close to his mouth, ready for another drag. He already has a bumper sticker on his car: missing: wife and dog. reward: for the dog.
I'm moving back toward the door, slow and easy so as not to be seen, when a kid walks out of the woods, right by my circle of giant trees. He looks like an ant compared to the size of those trees. Brown dreads sit in a nest on top of his head. He has no shoes, holey jeans, a ratty sweatshirt, and a backpack on his back. An empty plastic gallon-sized water jug hangs from his finger and he walks right toward The What Not like he plans to buy something. He could just be a hiker, but I know what kind of math is going on in everyone's head. He's a fleabag freak in Nelson's book, the kind that makes life hell for loggers.
A kid like that walking out of those woods. His timing makes me dizzy.
NELSON LEANSBACK ON HISHEELS, crosses his arms over his chest, and watches the kid walk toward us. "You living in those woods?" he yells out.
The kid keeps walking. "Nope." He looks like he's on a mission.
"I'll bet you're not," Nelson says. He walks over to stand between the stairs and the kid. "What are you doing coming down from there then? You know this land is private, right? The state park is miles away."
The kid stops, puts his free hand in the air, and takes a few steps back. "Whoa. I'm just passing through, man." Now everyone is acting like someone is guilty of something. "I'm just going to get a little something to eat, if that's okay with you." Scraggly hairs line the bottom of his chin and jaw. Not much of a beard. He can't be older than me. "I'm just on my way to a trail." The kid tries to walk around Nelson, who steps in front of him again.
"Oh yeah? What trail are you hiking?"
The kid hitches one thumb in the strap of his backpack and with his other hand knocks the plastic water bottle against the side of his leg. "Is it a crime to walk here?" He has no idea who he's talking to.
Nelson shrugs his shoulders. "I guess it depends on where you're walking."
"Look, I just need some water and I'll be on my way." The kid holds the plastic bottle in front of him like it's proof that what he's saying is true.
"That's an awfully big jug of water for a little hike, don't you think?" Nelson's not giving an inch.
"Oh, forget it." The kid turns to walk away.
I walk to the screen door and stand in the doorway.
"Oh, come on now." Nelson walks toward the kid and puts his arm on his shoulder, buddy-like, like he's going to help him out. "We can help you with some water." He pulls him toward the side of The What Not where the water faucet is. The kid walks with Nelson, looking at him, nervous, and then, just like that, he makes a run for it. He is no hiker. Nelson has an arm on him and pulls the kid back, which makes him fall. Bud is off the porch, standing next to Nelson in no time, both of them standing over the kid.
My heart tries to bust out of the cage of my ribs.
"I don't have anything against you, man! I'm just getting some food." The kid is on his back, looking at them, using his hands to shimmy away, trying to get his feet under his body.
"Not in front of the store," Gramps grumbles, and he shifts in his rocker.
Nelson looks back at the porch and around to the massive trees looking down on us all, like he's heard something and isn't sure where it was coming from.
"Oh yeah. No problem," he finally says to Gramps, and he turns back to the kid. "Just stand up. Come here a minute. I want to tell you something." The kid looks from Nelson to Bud and back again before he gets to his feet. "I just want to tell you something about where to walk." Nelson talks like he's trying to explain something to a dimwit. The kid looks at the ground between Nelson's and Bud's feet, and then he looks right at me. A jolt runs down my spine. His face frozen, eyes wide. Nelson whips his head around and looks at me too. "Do you know him?" Spitting words like bullets. Dad's voice is in my head. Nelson's six cards shy of a full deck.
Nelson's dark, mad eyes drill into me. I hold my breath and shake my head no. The absolute wrong thing to do. The kid closes his eyes, his shoulders sag, and he looks to one side, but only for a second before he fixes his eyes back on Nelson, like he's going to stare him down.
Everything is set in motion. I can feel it.
"Yeah. I didn't think so." Nelson turns back around. He puts his arm around the kid's shoulder again and pulls him toward the side of the store. "Come here. I just want to show you something."
Excerpted from "Tree Dreams"
Copyright © 2018 Kristin Kaye.
Excerpted by permission of BookSparks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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