Alder Ferry would have been just another nondescript suburb living in the shadow of its urban parent if not for one detail: the mysterious stand of alder trees anchoring the town to its past and standing as a reminder to the wilderness that once stood in its place. In the shadows of the alders, a boy named Tommy found refuge. There, an eclectic book collection was his only companion through a tumultuous childhood, serving as his escape from the brutal realities of his life. That was until Aubrey appeared. Born of different worlds, the alders become their escape while their unlikely friendship blossoms into a love that few people ever come to understand or enjoy—proving that true friendship is a romantic pursuit in its purest form. Together they come of age in a town hostile to their friendship—a friendship that challenges the intersecting boundaries of class, gender, and sexuality. Prejudice and privilege masquerade to destroy their dreams while class, gender, and faith collide. All are tested as Tommy and Aubrey carry each other through their teen years and into adulthood. Whispers in the Alders is an impassioned experience that will test the emotions and is a story that will linger with the reader long after the last page is turned.
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|Publisher:||Sunbury Press, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.55(d)|
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Little did I know, but my family's relocation to Alder Ferry would be the last of many moves I endured as a child. It was the quintessential last stop and whether or not I liked it, this would be the place where I would come to define myself. As precocious a child as I was, I could not have imagined that this place would have had the impact on my life as it did. I remember traveling to the mundane town, saying to myself, "God, why can't it be here?" as the quaint towns of the central and upper stretches of the county receded into the fading horizon. Instead, we landed in Alder Ferry — a no-man's land between the gritty, blue-collar city to the south and the captivating, wealthy towns to the north. I egged my father on to go the full monty, and just move us into one of the teeming neighborhoods that sidled up to the border of Alder Ferry. As usual, my opinion was dismissed by my indifferent parents.
I was thirteen years old when we arrived, a mere two weeks before the new school year started. My father, Stuart, was the vice president of operations for a mid-sized manufacturing conglomerate that was increasing its presence along the East Coast. Every year it seemed that another aging manufacturing facility would be swallowed whole by his company. Like a vulture, my father would swoop in and watch over the kill, laying off workers and streamlining processes to squeeze whatever profits he could out of his victim. Once his host was drained, my father would drag us along to the next stop of his tour and the process would neatly repeat itself.
The Caldwell Tool and Die Company became the next victim. The shop employed a fairly good portion of the men of Alder Ferry and was one of the few shops that survived the economic downturn of the nineteen seventies. Founded during the World War II years, it had remained strong and competitive with the small but lucrative defense contracts it secured. The workers and facilities meant nothing to my father's company; it was the contracts they sought. Insignificant shops holding even less significant government contracts were eaten in savory fashion by his company. The contracts would eventually be turned over to the company's main plant for handling. The victim would be mothballed and their workers doled over to the unemployment rolls with haste.
It came as no surprise that my father's company had earned quite a reputation for its tactics. My father was hated before people met him. He was the grim reaper. His appearance most always guaranteed the death of his host. While my callous father couldn't give a fleeting thought about the lives he was trampling, it was always me who faced the consequences of his actions. My father didn't have to assimilate — I did. From the first day at school, I was known by my classmates and teachers (many whose husbands would be laid off by my father) as "the Worthington kid." Try making friends when your father is the most despised man in town; when you will move in another year; when the other kids in your neighborhood refuse to even look at you because "you" forced their daddies out of a job. Being transient was difficult enough, but having your baggage arrive before you made it all the more difficult.
I spent my childhood as an outcast in every town we resided. Home was always contentious — whether from the union picketers pacing the sidewalks to local reporters knocking at the front door, or the drunken men that cursed my father from careening cars as they flung their empty bottles at us. From an early age, I was forced to acknowledge adult problems and deal with them on my own. My parents were too engulfed in their own drama to even appreciate what I was experiencing. Arriving at Alder Ferry I expected more of the same.
Our car continued its course into the town as I tried to melt into the confines of my seat and avoid any conversation with my parents. Strip malls, fast-food restaurants, and elementary schools that mirrored juvenile detention centers, they all gazed back at me through the steely, box frame of the passenger window. I knew they were mocking me, saying, "Ha! Look at you! We have you and will not let you go!" It was my biggest fear that I would someday come to one of the nondescript towns bled dry by my father's company and never leave. I would dissolve into the crowd of locals, my face conforming to those around me, made devoid of emotion by my surrendered dreams.
"Chin up, it could be far worse than you always make of it," chimed my father from behind the wheel. I felt his eyes examining me through the rearview mirror, looking for any recognition from me. His gaze burned and I avoided eye contact at all costs. I pushed myself deeper into the seat, but I was trapped. There were a few times when I allowed my parents to come at me as a unified force. The car was the one place where they took full tactical advantage of situations such as this. Short of throwing myself from the car, which at times I considered, I was all theirs for teasing, ridiculing, and prodding, so they could enjoy the feeling of power exerted over me. I knew it was their sore spot, knowing they had little control over me. As I aged I became more and more indifferent to them. They viewed it as rebellion, an insolent child who had little appreciation for the life they provided her.
"Aubrey, your father is speaking to you," chirped my mother. She always echoed in on his behalf. I sunk further into the seat cushion, my nails nearly slashing through the cloth.
"Aubrey!" My mother exclaimed loudly, always escalating any discussion.
"Yes, mother?" Fortunately, I couldn't see her face through the rearview mirror. I knew it wouldn't be pretty.
"Why don't you ..." I cut her off before she could get in another word.
"Yeah, I know it could be far worse than I make of it. I could start school in a few weeks with no reputation." My anger built as I continued my sarcastic retort to the dream world they imagined having created for me. "I could be home like you, alone with my thoughts. Or in a secluded corner office like father!"
"You arrogant little ..." My mother cupped my father's mouth before he completed his sentence. I took the thrill of it away from him, instead, finishing his thought with my own:
"Yeah, me, your arrogant little bitch of a daughter! I'm the only one in this family who has to face the people in these towns from day one who are filled with nothing but hate for you! Two weeks from now I will be in some new school, all alone. Where will the two of you be? All happy in your perfect world! So, yeah, it could be far worse, right?"
Silence. They always went silent after these exchanges. I always wondered if, deep inside, they agreed with me. Their actions through the years would prove otherwise. Every day of my childhood seemed a struggle to maintain my identity and to avoid falling into the life they planned for me. It could have been an easy life, but at what cost, and to end up like them? I learned to show my gratitude in the only way I knew, which was to follow my own path. My success, or more precisely, my lack of failing, was the greatest blow I could deal to their pride.
The silence didn't last long, as the argument nearly carried us to the next place that would conveniently be labeled home. I still recall with vivid clarity how we turned off King Street, skirted a few side streets that resembled alleyways, and placed some distance between us and the harried town center. Here we were, no more than a mile from the suburban blight behind us, turning down a well-maintained gravel road that took us back decades. A dreaded feeling of deeper isolation overcame me as we turned our backs to the town that I dreaded only moments earlier.
The land began to slope down and away from us with the gentle undulation of a sheer curtain rippled by a calm breeze. Then they appeared, almost out of nowhere. It was my first view of the alder stand. It was their impressive expanse that made for their memorable first impression, along with being the only undeveloped tract of land for miles. Beyond was the Lowanachen River, its scaly green waters dancing in the rays of the August sun. To the southern side of the stand were the remnants of Alder Ferry's industrial past, waiting to consume my father.
An old stone wall rose up from the turf and paralleled the road as we drew in nearer to the stand. It bordered and held the progression of the trees in check. To our right was a turn-off towards the stand with a large gravel parking area littered by a handful of cars. A path made its way from the parking lot to the site of the old ferry, now a fishing access for the locals. Beside the parking area were four pavilions, a public restroom, and a field about one acre in size. It was the only public park in Alder Ferry, and here it stood without herald. Even when the townspeople filled this space it still had a feeling of detachment from the town. The park was a peninsula of manicured, open space in an otherwise wild environ.
We hadn't strayed far from the center of town, but all spatial relationships ceased after we turned onto the gravel road. My headphones dropped from my ears and for the first time during our adventure I was drawn out of my seat. It was the trees. I couldn't take my eyes from the trees. They drew my eyes in, then up, and around their border; there were no other ways to go, for I certainly couldn't see into them. From the shallow rise, the alders were a sea of green, their expansive canopy commingling on the haze-laden horizon with the Lowanachen. As removed from the town as we felt, something eerily calm about this area was causing me to hope that our home would be nearby. I never asked my parents for details about any of our relocations. After all the years of moving, I had given up on the minutiae of our existence: the packing of our lives into neat cardboard boxes and driving, sometimes for days, to our next stopover. The only change that would render itself out would be geographic. Socially nothing changed from town to town: I was always the despised outsider.
The park vanished in the dust plume rising up from behind us, and the gravel road began to fade into the earth, gradually becoming a two- track dirt road that brought us to the edge of the alder stand. Our only companion now was the old stone wall, about two to three feet high, made of local bluestone meticulously placed one atop the other during some forgotten time. Between the trees and the wall, the area had a timeless feel to it. Even civilization had become a memory, as all sounds from town to the west and the local industrial sites just to the south were drowned out by the perpetual cacophony of crickets and katydids. The sound was at times deafening; to this day I am still amazed that I became acclimated to it.
The dirt two-track was brought to a halt by an old, arched iron gate, hinged on one side to a cornice in the stone wall. The gate was the only noticeable break in the stone wall, which continued until bifurcating into a ninety-degree elbow in two directions: the length bordering the property, and the other which continued for a few hundred yards before it disappeared into a small grove of twisted cedars dominated by a single, towering oak. It was there that this section of the old wall retreated like a dying cat, disintegrating into both time and earth. The wall's endpoint gave off the semblance of a family burial plot, the lone rise of trees setting an unmistakable landmark. The solitary oak drew the eyes to it, pulling them up and up, training the viewer's glance to the heavens. It stood in stark contrast to the alder stand in that its strength wasn't connected to anything else. Individually it had managed to survive everything that had occurred in its company over the past four hundred years. There was a loneliness about that tree, kept apart from the others, an isolation I knew all too well.
The car squeaked to a stop, my dad breaking the silence only to say, "I'll be right back," as he exited the vehicle to pry open the rusted gate. The dirt two-track transitioned to crushed shells, their pearl essence shimmering and dancing in the waves of heat radiating from the ground. Stolid oak trees guarded the driveway, forming a canopy that dimmed the strong August sun. To our right, the property was bordered by another stone wall being reclaimed by the alder stand.
The oaks all but blocked any view of the structure that would be home in name only until leaving for college four years after making its acquaintance. Our car crawled through the oak canopy toward a point of light. Finally, the trees parted and before us stood a grand old reminder of the colonial past. She was a magnificent example of Federal architecture, its symmetrical design grounding it firmly into the landscape. Its whitewashed stucco exterior pulled in the rays of the sun, giving the old home a gleam that must have been truly captivating in its early grandeur. The signs of neglect were all there: vines had taken hold of the building, peeling back pieces of the delicate stucco exterior in many locations and exposing the weathered brick beneath.
"Ladies, welcome home," boomed my father. "I'm sure we can make this old lady shine again," he boasted. "The price was right too — cheaper than rent!" I noticed my mother's jaw drop at these words. Never before had we owned a home.
"Stu, you didn't ... I wasn't expecting this," the words seemed to be choked out of my mother's mouth.
"Edith, she's all yours. Do as you please with her," replied my father, passing on control of the property with such a nonchalant manner that any joy in the situation was whisked into oblivion. He did give her carte blanche authority over the property. He just didn't want to be bothered with any of the details. He could care less where we lived as he was never really a fixture in our home with his work schedule.
The house was grand, and I knew my mother was impressed with its size and potential. Not to mention the location of the property, with its feeling of seclusion while being just minutes from town, this could be ideal. For once she would be able to avoid the ire of the women whose husbands were unemployed by my father. She could hole up here, make it her own, and romance her wine collection while my father and I were gone during the day. The property ideally suited our dysfunctional family unit.
We stepped inside, greeted by a wide staircase sweeping up to a second-floor balcony. The interior was impressive, but even more impressive was the amount of work needed before the building could be comfortable, let alone livable. Passing through the home we reached the back door, which spilled out onto a colonnaded portico with an unobstructed view of the Lowanachen. The once manicured lawn had become overgrown with wild rose to the point of becoming impassable, save for a narrow path mown to the boathouse. I looked back at my parents and could tell that this would be their respite, the final stop of the whirlwind tour that was my father's career.
I did my best to keep my distance, not wanting to hint that there was something to this place. Maybe if they weren't in it, I could have made do with the old estate. I peeled myself away from them and climbed into a rusted iron chair on the portico. Even in August, the wind off the river had a slight chill to it. I pulled my arms and knees in close together and gazed across the expansive property down to the river. My eyes traced the boundaries up and down, following the contours of the land that rolled with lazy ease down to the river. The alder stand hugged the property as the house was situated off to the side that bordered the alders. The air seemed twenty degrees cooler than it had at the gate, where the crickets and katydids sang and baked in the tall, dry grass. Here it was cool and quiet. Removed from the world was how it felt, this small piece of turf just as indifferent to its surroundings as I was to my parents. Maybe the chill was just the fact that this was it. This was the place for them, and if I weren't careful, I'd get caught up in life and never get the chance to leave.
Just then I caught movement out of my eye inside the alder stand. Startled, I stood up and hurled myself to the edge of the portico. I leaned over the edge of the rail to catch a glimpse of what caused the movement, but I was too late. Whatever, or whoever for that fact, it was, had vanished. All that was left were a few branches sweeping in to envelop the hole in the brush made by the fleeing intruder that was scrutinizing me. I had become oblivious to everything as I inspected my new surroundings, and this mysterious being took full advantage of my guard being down. A chill ran down my spine as I backed up towards the house and gazed into the darkness of the alders, not knowing what else would come from within their hidden recesses.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Whispers in the Alders"
Copyright © 2018 H. A. Callum.
Excerpted by permission of Sunbury Press Inc..
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