I’m so excited. Mother Lode is finally out. After many years, many re-writes, and three proofs, it is, at last, being launched. Today!
I’m so happy that I’m going to give you the first chapter, right now, right here! If you like this, you can order it today through https://createspace.com/ 3555336. (It won’t be availble on Amazon for another week, and CreateSpace is better, anyway.) Sorry about the funky formatting, but I assure you it won’t be that way in the book.
by Carol Sheldon
The blizzard was obliterating the road. With the
snow already a foot deep, and no town lights in sight, it was almost impossible
for Jorie to steer a steady course with the buggy. He brushed his lashes for
the hundredth time.
The sun had disappeared over the
horizon of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, leaving the sky dark, but not yet black.
With no lantern, Jorie knew he’d be lost in this white oblivion if he didn’t
see some sign of civilization soon. One wrong move and the gelding could slip
into a ditch and break a leg. Aiming for a mid-point between the trees on
either side of the road was the best he could do.
I need to get to
the sheriff’s. I need to get there soon, or I’ll never get there at all.
Like silent, moving pictures in a kinetoscope, the
snow made its presence devoid of sound. Autumn leaves, still blushing red,
commingled with the falling snow.
Recent memory bubbled up. Take my arm, Mother,
and you won’t slip. A gust
of wind, spinning the snow into a vortex around him brought him back sharply.
He must keep his wits about him if he was to get out of this alive; he dare not spend a moment on what lay
behind. Not now.
But for the plaintive cry of a wolf, the night fell
into a terrible silence. The lap robe did little to comfort him, as spasms of
cold ricocheted through his body.
Where was he, how far from Hancock? Had he passed
the big turn in the road yet? The otherworldliness of the situation left him
without feeling for time or place.
Finally, downdrafts of smoke from the towering stack
of the Keweenaw Mining Company reached his nostrils. He was nearing town! Tears
of relief turned icy before they’d run their course. Acrid odors of blasting
powder filtered downwind from the smelting plant. Soon the exhaust of the
Portage Copper Mining Company joined that of the Keweenaw, its fiery red glow throwing sparks from her lofty
chimney. At last he’d reached Hancock!
Alone he crossed the silent streets of town. As the
sight of gas streetlamps beckoned him, he felt the loosening of his muscles;
his hands relaxed their grip on the reins. Then his stomach balled into an even
tighter knot: In only minutes, he’d have to inform the sheriff. About his mother.
Peering through the tumbling snow at rows of ghostly
houses, he wasn’t sure which house belonged to the sheriff. He couldn’t tell
one from another.
He drew up to one that might be the Fosters’, tied
up the gelding and opened the gate. Trudging through the ever-rising snow took
every last bit of energy. Was this even the right house? White against white.
But as he got closer he could see it had two gables, and a porch across the
front. It looked like the right place. At least there was a light on in the
He was so stiff with cold when he reached the door,
he could barely grasp the knocker.
Cora Foster peered out into the blizzard. “Who is
The rounded woman stood back staring at the white
apparition before her, blowing wisps of faded brown hair from her face. At last she found her voice. “Jorie Radcliff!
What are you doing out in such a misery?”
“I need to see—”
“Come in, come in.” She stood back in amazement.
“Just look at you, like a ghost from the other side! Lordy, I hardly know you.”
She brought him in and closed the door. Unmindful of
the snow he was bringing in, Jorie followed her dumbly into the parlor, where
Mrs. Foster seated him by the fire and draped an afghan over his knees.
She poked at the coals, and added more wood. “Who’d
have thought, such a storm, and it not even November?” she said, although
October snowfalls in these parts were not unusual.
Waves of heat bathed him in warmth. Pain replaced
numbness as he began to thaw, and a terrible quaking shook his whole body.
Jorie pushed his painful thoughts aside, focused on
the sounds: the rasp of metal against metal, the fall of cinders, and the thud
of new wood placed on the grate. Cora Foster was making up the fire. He had
been in this home many times; he would be all right now.
From the kitchen, he heard, “Who is it, Cora?”
“It’s the Radcliff boy, Earl.”
Jorie heard the sheriff’s chair pushed back from the
kitchen table. Mr. Foster came into the parlor, a large blue napkin tucked
under his chin and extending over his broad chest. Earl Foster was a
barrel-chested man, not tall, but making up for it in strength. With a mustache
that complimented a full head of brown hair, Sheriff Foster was noticeable if
not handsome. He was proud of his mustache and spent considerable time keeping
it properly pruned. Not an ostentatious one, like the judge his poker buddy
had, which curled at the ends and extended beyond the parameters of his face.
Earl Foster’s was modest, befitting his station, which the sheriff believed
gave him more visibility. With visibility came authority, he believed. Or at
least the feeling that it did, which in itself was worth something.
“What brings you here, lad?” Earl Foster pulled off
his bib, wiped it roughly across his mouth.
Whether it was his chattering teeth or the emotional
shock, Jorie could barely speak.
“In the forest . . .” He couldn’t finish.
“What about the forest?”
It seemed that Mr. Foster was
looming over him like Goliath. Jorie stared at the man’s trousers and noticed
that a button on his fly was missing.
“It started sn-owing.”
“Let the lad catch his breath, Earl. He’s half
froze. I’ll fix something to warm him up.”
Mrs. Foster disappeared into the kitchen, beckoning
her husband to follow.
As he sat alone, scenes in the snow played around
the edges of Jorie’s mind, but he couldn’t keep them in focus. He descended
into a kind of mental numbness, only to be startled back to the present, as
Mrs. Foster placed a tray on his lap. When he finished the fish chowder, the
chill began to wear off. He put his spoon down and let his lids fall.
Mrs. Foster collected the bowl, and Mr. Foster
returned to the room and sat down.
“Start at the beginning and tell me what happened.”
his eyes. Mr. Foster’s eyebrows caught and held his attention. He’d known they
were bushy, but he’d never noticed before that the left one had several hairs
an inch long curling up toward his brow.
“What happened in the forest?”
Jorie forced his thoughts to go where they least
wanted to be. “It started out a sunny day. I took my m-mother . . .”
Where is she?”
Jorie wet his lips. “I took her for a ride in the
buggy, and a walk in the woods.”
“In this storm? What the hell did you do that for?”
The sheriff was on his feet again.
“It was sunny. It wasn’t snowing when we started
out!” Jorie buried his head in his hands.
Earl Foster let out a long breath.
“It was sunny, and then it started. . . ”
The sheriff was pacing. And he was scratching a sore
spot on his arm. If only he’d stay put, Jorie figured he could get his thoughts
“It started snowing hard. It turned into a blizzard,
and we got lost. She, she kept slipping in the snow.” His voice dropped to a
whisper. “Then she fell—”
Earl Foster leaned closer. “How’s that? I didn’t
“She fell— her ankle. She couldn’t walk.”
It was difficult to keep focused. He was listening
to the pendulum and the cinders falling. Anything, to avoid remembering. But he
had to remember. He had to tell Mr. Foster.
“She told me to find the trail and come back for
her.” There was a catch in his breath. “I tried to make her comfortable.”
Jorie swallowed a few times. Earl Foster was looking
very agitated, blotting a little blood from the sore he’d been scratching.
“I, I left her.” He clamped his mouth shut hard to
stop the quivering of his lips. Finally, he continued. “And tried to find my
way out. By the time I got back to the road, I was losing the light. I was
afraid I’d never find her. I didn’t even have a lantern.”
“You didn’t have one in the buggy?”
“No, sir.” Jorie hung his head.
“I, I didn’t expect to be out after dark.”
“What did you do then?”
“When you found the road, but had no lamp!” The
sheriff was losing patience.
“Oh.” Squinting painfully Jorie tried to remember.
“I started down the road, trying to find a house. I ran into a fellow in a
wagon. I asked him if he’d help me. He had a lantern, and the two of us
backtracked down the trail.”
“The trail you’d just come off of.”
“Yes, sir. But the snow had already covered my
footprints. We searched for about an hour. It was getting dark.” Jorie’s voice
broke. “The man said he had to be getting home, and I’d better follow him out
of the woods.”
“So you left her there.” The sheriff took a deep
breath. “And she’s still there.”
Jorie was shaking.
Tears were running down his face and he couldn’t stop them. “I couldn’t
help her. I told her I’d come back for her. I didn’t see how I could help her
by staying. I had to find someone—l ” He swallowed. “Can you do something, Mr.
“We’ll get to that.”
The sheriff paced again before sitting down. “Let me get this straight.
You took your mother for a scenic walk in the forest with a blizzard on the
“It was beautiful when we started out.”
“What time was that?”
“I thought you were working at the newspaper.”
“I set type, midnight to eight.”
“You didn’t hear any forecast about the storm?”
“What was the man’s name— the man with the lantern?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where’d he live?”
“He didn’t say. We just tried to find my m-mother.”
“Why didn’t you carry her out with you? She can’t
weigh more than a hundred ten pounds.”
“We were lost. I had to find the trail first. Then I
was going to—”
“Come back and get her, yes.”
“Had it started to snow when you went for your
“No, sir.” Why did the sheriff keep asking the same
Earl poked around on his desk for his writing
tablet, fussed with the nib of his pen. Finally he said, “October 22, 1900.” He
looked up. “Is that right, Jorie?”
“I don’t know. I think so, sir.”
He wrote down the date. “Catherine—what was her
middle name? Some goddess or other.”
“Isis. She uses her maiden name now.”
Earl Foster wrote her full name on the paper.
“Catherine Isis MacGaurin Radcliff. Do you know her age? Thirty-five, is it?”
“Thirty-six.” Dimly Jorie wondered how Mr. Foster
knew so much about his mother.
“And how old are you, Jorie?”
“I just turned eighteen.”
“When was that?”
“Two weeks ago.”
The sheriff picked some fuzz off the nib
of his pen. “Didn’t I hear you moved out
of the house awhile back, after a rough patch with your mother?”
for about a month.”
“When you had that scuffle with her in your sister’s
God, had she told
him about that?
He wiped the perspiration with his sleeve. “Yes, sir.”
“Why did you move back?”
“My sister— Eliza, needed me. She’s only four.”
Jorie watched the sheriff snap a rubber band on his
wrist. “What did you do last night?”
“We played Flinch.”
“My mother and I, after Eliza went to bed.”
“Did you have any arguments?”
“After the game, what happened?”
“My mother turned in.”
“And what did you do?”
“I took a walk down by the lake.”
“I just wanted to think.”
Jorie turned toward the window, listening to the
scraping of the frozen birch tree branch as it clawed the window pane.
“I can’t remember.”
“Where’s your sister now?”
“Oh, my God!”
He hadn’t thought about Eliza since he’d left home
with his mother.
“She’s with the neighbors. I’m supposed to pick her
up at suppertime.”
“Why wasn’t she included on this outing?”
“She was playing with her friend. Mother said to
leave her there ‘til we got home.”
Jorie’s eye caught the grandfather clock. The
movement and sound of Mr. Foster’s chair, he noticed, was almost but not quite
synchronized with the pendulum. If he could just get them together, or stay
with the pendulum.
“Can you do something, Mr. Foster? Send some men to
“In this blizzard? It would take hours to get up
there, and even with lanterns, finding her in the dark when you’re not even
sure where you left her—” The sheriff paused. “I’m sorry, son. We’ll send a search
party out in the morning.”
There was something ominously final about that
statement. There was no way she could
survive the night, with temperatures plummeting below freezing.
Pictures started playing in Jorie’s head in jerky
slow motion, like the ones in the penny arcade. He and his mother were walking
through the woods and the snow was coming down in huge unstoppable flakes. It
rose to their knees, then up to their necks. They tried to swim through it, but
soon it was burying them both in its cold, merciless resolve. They lay
clutching each other beneath it, looking up through the small air space their
breath had reclaimed from the snow.
No, no! It wasn’t like that, he knew it wasn’t.
At the same time his body was acting up. A
tightening feeling in his throat spiraled down to his belly, turned around and
spiraled back up, bringing the contents with it.
He dashed for the front door.
Minutes later he stumbled back into the room and
collapsed on the floor in a crumpled heap of sobbing flesh. Long tortured wails
broke their dam and poured forth in wave after wave of unarticulated grief.
He felt something laid over him, maybe the afghan.
The only sound that reached his ears was the steady tock of the pendulum. He
deliberately focused on its comforting predictability.
Finally, he heard the sheriff say something about
“What are you going to do about Eliza?”
He sat up and blew his nose. “I have to get her.”
“Will she be in school tomorrow?”
He shook his head. “She’s only four.” He pulled
himself together and got off the floor.
“You’d better make arrangements for her then. Be
here by ten. Let’s hope the road crew has rolled the road by then. You’ll show
us where to look.”
Jorie’s stomach lurched. He knew it was perfectly
reasonable for the sheriff to ask him to help in the search, but he hadn’t
The thought of coming upon his mother’s stiff body
brought up more waves of nausea.
Well, I hope that whetted your appetite. Please leave a comment, and subscribe to my blog!
Til next time,