Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter – Part 4, Conclusion

November 11th, 2011 No comments

(Continued from Part 3…)

Grandma insisted on making Doug sit down and try the apple crisp with fresh whipped cream right away.  Doug didn’t really argue.  As he was polishing off the big bowl, his grandmother quizzed him on how everyone in Twin Springs was doing, from Jessie and his mom and the almost-baby, to old Uncle Bill.  “Where’s Grandpa?” Doug asked.  “Won’t I have to go over all this with him later?”
“Yes, but I still want to hear it first.  Your grandfather is still teaching at the Middle College.  He’ll be back for dinnertime.”

Doug busied himself helping his grandmother with dinner until Grandpa arrived.  “Well, hello Douglass.  You’ve gotten taller.  How about you show me that problem power supply, eh?  Hopefully I can figure something out before Mother calls us to sit down.  Set it up on my workbench while I change out of my teaching clothes into my farmer’s uniform.”
“You don’t farm, Grandpa.”
“No… not anymore.  Just a little gardening.  You don’t remember?”
Doug shook his head.  He had been four when Grandma and Grandpa moved out of Twin Springs into Ontonagon, so he didn’t have any memory of his grandfather working the farm.
Grandpa sighed.  “Well, that’s too bad.  Now I just farm brains at school.  I swear, sometimes those weeds are harder to pull.”
It didn’t take long to get the power supply disassembled on Grandpa’s electronics workbench.  Doug had only picked up the very basics of electronics, but the blown capacitor and charred traces on the main board were obvious.  “What do you think?”
“I’ll know in a minute.  Let’s see…”  He reached up to a shelf and pulled out a tablet with some cables attached.  “Here.  This is the debug port, let’s see…”  He attached one of the cables to a small connector on one of the power supply boards, tapped up a debugger app on the tablet, frowned, then started to check around the board with a meter.  “I don’t know – it’s still using CPU control rather than analog, and the brains might be fried.  Need to see if I can get some voltage to it…”  Doug watched, asking a few questions but mostly just trying to follow along.
Eventually, Grandpa shook his head.  “Nope.  Chip’s fried too.  So much for failsafes.”
“Could you replace it?”
“It’d be tricky – but no point.  We’d have to order it preprogrammed for this supply, and they charge more for that than for a new unit.  It’s spare parts now.”
Doug was thrilled for a second — this meant that he’d get to go to Houghton after all!  Then, he felt ashamed.  A new supply was going to cost most of the profits from this year’s log bonding.  A repair would have meant that a lot more money was available for the family.
“Dad’s going to be disappointed.”
Grandpa shrugged.  “Seems like it’s harder all the time to get decent electronics from the Brazillians, and nobody is taking up the slack.  Wish we could get some Yooper supplier, or at least NortAmerican, but that’s more than I’m going to take on at my age.”
“You telling me there’s a business opportunity?”
“I think there might be.  At least, I’d like to think so.  Why, you looking to start a business?” Grandpa asked, with a bit of an eager gleam in his eye that surprised Doug.
“Well, m-maybe,” Doug stuttered.  “I don’t like trees and sheep and potatoes the way Dad does.”
“But don’t you need to be rich to start something like that?”
His grandfather laughed a bit.  “Rich?  Well, money does help with that sort of thing, although not always as much as you might think.  You sound like you think you’re not already rich.”
“Say what?  We’re farmers, Grandpa.  And log-bonders.  Who have to worry about whether we can afford a new power supply.  That’s not rich.”
Grandpa looked at Doug over the top of his glasses.  “Oh, really?  You think you need to be a fancy mine chief, or maybe a shipbuilder, driving your car around town just to show off to be rich?”  He frowned.  “You need to look down instead of just up, young man, and appreciate your blessings.  Been hungry lately?”
“Just between meals.”
“Bingo.  Which I know are being put on your table at least three times a day.  Probably more like a Hobbit schedule, if I know you grandkids.” Doug chuckled at that – he and Michael had started asking for “second breakfast” after reading about Shire mealtimes.  “And fresh water to wash it down with?”
“It’s called ‘Twin Springs’ for a reason, Grandpa.”
“Bingo again.  One of the main reasons your great-grandfather bought the place before the Troubles, you know.  He wanted his family where he could be sure of a water supply.  Always said that, if the springs failed, worst case we weren’t that far from the biggest supply of fresh water on the planet.”
Doug stood up from his workbench stool and shuffled his feet a bit. “I don’t feel rich.  Seems like all we do is work, work, work.”
“Well, we’re not rich enough to laze around, that’s for sure.  But… you haven’t done your service trip yet, have you?”
Doug shook his head.  It wasn’t exactly mandatory — you could still be Confirmed without it, although the Bishop didn’t like it — but the Church was encouraging young people to spend at least three months with a mission order doing some sort of service.
“You should, you know.  It would be good for you to see more of the world than ‘Nogon and the Porkies. Compared to the beggars in New Chicago, you’ve got it pretty good.”
Doug didn’t answer.  It was true; compared to them, he was fabulously wealthy.  At least up here, you didn’t have to worry so much about whether the ground you were growing your food in was poisoned or radioactive.
Grandpa pushed his glasses back up on his face, and gave Doug a pat on the shoulder.  “You really are richer than you know.  ‘All that is gold does not glitter,’ of course.”
“What does that mean?”
Grandpa was surprised.  “You must not have gotten that far in the Fellowship.”
“They all just arrived at Bree.”
“Ah.  Well, you’ll see soon, then.”

They returned to the house and phoned Twin Springs to break the bad news about the power supply.  Dad reported no baby yet.  “But I can’t imagine she’ll hold on until you get back now, so be ready for a new brother or sister.”  Grandma said she would drive the team back to Twin Springs tomorrow and stay there until after the baby came.
“How am I going to get home?” asked Doug.
“We’ll do the reverse trip when you get back,” Dad said.  “Either your grandmother will come back with the buggy, or if we can’t pry her away from the baby, I’ll find someone to send.”
They said their goodbyes and hung up after that, to keep from running up charges.  Doug had to admit to himself that not everyone had phone service, so maybe they _were_ better off than he was used to thinking.
Doug had hoped that the pasties might be for dinner, but Grandma said those would be for tomorrow’s lunch.  Instead, she had concocted a mix of roasted vegetables with potatoes, parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, and turnips, with some goat cheese melted on top, and served it with salad from their hoophouse and the chicken soup she had been simmering.  He admitted this would keep his mind off the pasties until tomorrow.
“And mind you stay out of those cookies,” Grandma warned.  “Those are for All Hallow’s Eve.”
“Is that tonight?  I lost track.  If I dress up as a saint, can I have one too?”
“And just who do you think you are going to be?”
Doug walked over to the woodstove, picked up the kindling hatchet, and slung it over his shoulder like a lumberman’s axe.  His grandparents were puzzled for a moment, then Grandpa blurted out “Saint Boniface! Good choice.”  Grandma laughed.  “Well, then, you deserve a cookie for that one.”
“While your grandmother hands out cookies, I’m going to Mass tonight.  Are you coming?”
Doug looked uncomfortable.  “I really wasn’t planning on it…”
“Is there a problem?”
“No! Well, I mean… I guess I haven’t been to confession in a while.”
“No surprise, with only that little chapel out there.  But you’re here now.”
“I know, but I hate confession with Father Nakamura.  Half the time, I can’t understand him, and I end up being afraid that he didn’t hear me right or that I’ll mess up the penances and be worse off than before.”
“It doesn’t get easier if you put it off, you know,” said Grandma.
“I should be in Houghton in plenty of time to catch All Saints, if I get an early enough train.  I can try to catch a priest who speaks English then, eh?”
“Or at least who speaks Yooper.”

It ended up being a quiet evening.  Doug helped Grandma hand out cookies, but the rush of kids yelling “Trick or Treat!” only lasted about a half hour.  That left plenty of time to clean up from dinner, discuss details of what to look for in the next power supply with Grandpa and to get back to reading Fellowship before turning in.
“Oh, I see!  Aragorn’s verse is what you were saying earlier?  But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Think, Douglass.  It’ll come to you.”

It was early in the morning when they all got up.  Grandpa gave Doug some letters of introduction to Houghton’s two electrical shops, plus some of the Michigan Tech faculty.  “I want you to see Dr. Lynch while you are there,” Grandpa told Doug.
“Is he Electrical Engineering?”
“Mining and Geology, actually.”Doug couldn’t believe his ears.  He had wondered if it would be possible to get someone from Tech to validate his find, and now his grandfather was setting it up for him.  He wondered for a second if he actually knew about the nuggets, then dismissed the thought.  Just a coincidence.
“Sure, Grandpa.  What for?”
“I just want you to get introduced. He’s an old friend of mine.  He’d be a good one to talk to about getting off the farm, if you’re looking for a way.”
Doug blinked.  “I didn’t think you would take that seriously.”
Grandpa smiled.  “Why not?”

The train ride from Ontonagon to Houghton was delightful.  Doug was able to read and take in the fall color without the worry of having to drive a team of horses.  He noticed the increasing number of farms as they got closer – the Keewenaw was much more populated than the Trap Hills.  Leaving the train station, he checked Mass times at St. Frederick Baraga, and decided he had plenty of time to stop by the University and look up Dr. Lynch before the last service.  Besides, he was planning on staying there for at least one night anyhow – his grandfather had arranged that too.  Tech had more dorm space than students these days, and was willing to let out rooms, if one knew who to ask.

It took Doug a few wrong turns, but he eventually figured out the right building on campus.  It should have been simple, but the height of the buildings was a little disorienting – most were at least eight stories tall.  “Come in!” a voice said, when he knocked on the half-open door of the office.  The man at the desk looked up as Doug came in.  “What can I do for you?”
“Hello, Dr. Lynch.  Um… I’m just in the city for a day or two, and my grandfather wanted me to introduce myself.  My name is Doug Pakala.”
The man got up from his desk and extended his hand.  “Nice to make your acquaintance, young man.  I’m Bob Lynch.  So, you must be one of Professor Pakala’s grandkids?”
Professor Pakala? “My grandfather is Dale Pakala.  He said that you two are friends?  I never heard that he taught at Tech.”
“Wonderful!  I can see the resemblance.  Have a seat, relax.  Yes, he’s an emeritus now, but he did teach for several years, although after that he was a research fellow until he retired.”
“Grandpa was into electronics research?”
“Oh, no,” Dr. Lynch replied, “electronics are just his hobby.  Your grandfather is part of the Agriculture faculty.”
“I thought he was just a farmer.”
Just a farmer?  Oh, no.  That pollard / pasture mix that’s at Twin Springs?”  Doug nodded – he knew it well.  Taking trimmings from the high branches was one of his jobs.  “That’s starting to be used all over the State now?  The research that showed how productive that could be was done by your grandfather.  It’s still ongoing, even though he keeps trying to retire.”
Doug decided he was going to have to ask Grandpa more about this when he got home.  It would be a lot more interesting grazing the sheep on the back forty if he knew the rationale for the tree arrangement.
“Dr. Lynch?  Can I ask you something?  You are a mineralogist, right?”
“That’s part of what I do, yes.”
“Would you please take a look at these and tell me what you think?”  Doug brought out his two small nuggets, carefully unwrapped them, and set them on Dr. Lynch’s desk.
Dr. Lynch whistled, then started to examine them with a magnifying glass.  “Very nice specimens of native gold.  Where did you get them?”
“Found them out deer hunting last fall, to the west of Twin Springs.”
“What do you want to know about them?”
“Well, I was wondering… I found them near one of the creeks.  Do you think they show that there is a mother lode?”
Dr. Lynch shook his head.  “Ah, I see why you’re excited.  No, I don’t think so.  Look carefully at these.”  He handed Doug the magnifying glass.  “Do you see those fine striations, and the way there are those bits of fine gravel embedded into the gold?  That indicates that this gold was placed glacially, not weathered out of a mother lode.  It could have come from anywhere.  I’m sorry to give you the bad news.  They are very nice specimens, though.  I can offer you a premium over what you would get from a smelter so we can add them to the University’s collection.”

Doug walked back slowly to St. Baraga’s.  He hadn’t realized quite how much the daydream of striking it rich had gotten hold of him until Dr. Lynch had crushed it.  The money Tech was offering would make a difference, of course, but it wouldn’t make him rich.
Inside the church, there was a short line at the confessional.  Well, I don’t think that I’ve committed any mortal sins, but better safe than sorry, I suppose.  The waiting area had a pamphlet containing an examination of conscience.  Doug read through it casually, until he got to “Have I been motivated by avarice?”  Oh.  He was happy to find that the priest heard his confession and pronounced absolution in fluent Yooper.

Doug took his place near the back of the church.  It felt good to be at Mass again.  Usually, the family’s only opportunity would be the once every month or so Father Nakamura would come into Green.  Some months, they didn’t find out until afterwards.  Dad made an extra effort to get them to Ontonagon at Christmas and Easter, but the weather was always chancy.  More than one year, they’d been snowed in for Christmas.
The Psalm for the day was Psalm 16.  While Doug tried to be attentive to the lessons, usually the chanting of the Psalm made all the words jumble together in his mind.  Today, however, they came into bright focus:

O LORD, you are my portion and my cup;  

it is you who uphold my lot.

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage…

As the words of the Psalm flowed, Doug saw Twin Springs in his mind, but as if he were seeing it for the first time.  It’s so beautiful.  Why did I let myself get used to it?  He wondered about his mother, and if the new baby had come yet, and if so, how Jessica was handling not being the littlest any more.
Maybe Grandpa was right and he was richer than he knew.  After all, he had a goodly heritage, and his boundaries enclosed a pleasant land.


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All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter – Part 3

November 10th, 2011 No comments

(Continued from Part 2…)

Morning was crisp and clear, with a hint of frost on the grass and fog on the breath.  Doug was up early, before Michael but not before Mom.  For the hundredth time, he wondered how, no matter how early he got up, at least one of his parents would make it to the kitchen first.
“Good morning, Doug.  Ready for your big trip?  I made you some lunch.”  A carefully-wrapped sandwich, some apples, and a small jug were set out on the counter.
“Thanks, Mom!  Yeah, I’m really ready for this.  It’ll be exciting to get into the big city.”
“Ontonagon isn’t that big of a city,” she laughed.  “Don’t get your heart too set on Houghton – your grandfather might actually be able to fix that crazy thing.”
“A guy can dream, can’t he?  What’s that, oatmeal?  Here, I’ll stir and you sit down.”  With a look of gratitude, Mom stepped aside from the wood stove and sat down at the kitchen table.  “Maybe.  But I think it fried pretty good – I could smell it from 30 feet away when it blew, and what I heard from Dad on the phone with Grandpa didn’t sound good.”
Doug gave a big stir to the pot and slid it to a cooler part of the stovetop, then rummaged around the spice shelf a bit.  “OK if I use some cinnamon?”
“We need that for the holiday baking.  Just use some maple syrup and the old apple dices.”
“All right.”  Doug found the jar with the bits of dehydrated apple and added some to the pot, stirring and returning it to the heat.
Mom sat in quiet for a few minutes.  Outside, they could hear the animals starting to stir as the sun rose.  George the rooster crowed, then did it again about five or six times, coming closer and closer to the house.  The last time was close enough under the kitchen window that they both jumped.
“And just maybe, we’ll have some chicken dumplings when you get back.”

After wolfing down some oatmeal, Doug was ready to go.  He grabbed his lunch, his bob of clothes and travel essentials, and the packet of mail to drop off at the post office in Green.  They had loaded the power supply onto the buggy the night before.  Doug made sure to grab some cull apples for Jimmy and Jerry.
“All set?” Dad asked.  “I expect to hear from you when you make it to town.  Give us a call when you get there, then let us know when you know whether you’re coming back here or going on.  Your grandfather will help make arrangements if you do need to go to Houghton.”
“Will do.  Thanks, Dad.”
“Take care.  And Godspeed.”

Cranberry Rivers Road was almost a straight line from the gate of Twin Springs down to the Lake, and well-maintained.  The horses knew the way well, which let Doug steal a few moments here and there to enjoy the fall color.  The land here sloped gently down from the Trap Hills behind him to Lake Superior, which allowed a view for miles of forest broken with a few fields.  The bright yellow of the popple had almost passed, but the oaks and hickories still had their palettes of dark red-orange-yellow on display, highlighted against the green of pine and hemlock.  Patches of sugar maples added highlights of bright red to the display, and he could make out the whitecaps on blue water beyond it all.
The road ended in Green, where he dropped off the outgoing family mail with the postmaster, promising to pick up the incoming mail on his return.  After that, it was Lakeshore Highway along the coast into Ontonagon.  He drove the team to his grandparent’s home near the east edge of town, and found Grandma outside hanging laundry.  “Doug!  So good to see you.  Go ahead and stable those boys around back, and I’ve got a little something inside for you.”  After taking care of the horses, Doug walked around to the back door.  The house smelled like baked apples and pasties.  It was always good to visit Grandma – she considered grandchildren an excuse to show off in the kitchen.  Doug didn’t mind.

(Concluded in Part 4…)

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All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter – Part 2

November 8th, 2011 No comments

(Continued from Part 1…)

Dinner started that night was what had become the usual chaos — Mom sitting at the end of the big table with her feet up on a stool, looking tired; Dad at the other end of the table bellowing occasional questions or orders about some child’s work; and Aunt Kateri and Cousin Meg bustling around the kitchen, bringing out huge plates of food and having to make themselves heard over the din of excited children to ask Mom questions about where serving dishes or some final ingredient were hiding.  Doug kept quiet; while he didn’t really mind helping with food, the kitchen wasn’t his place and it seemed to him the best way to help was to stay out of the way until asked specifically.  With Kateri and Meg, and sisters Maddie and Lizzie already moving around the kitchen at high speed, he felt he would be underfoot – even if he was taller than all of them.
“All right, everyone, gather ‘round,” Dad called.  “Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord,” they all intoned together, and after the Sign of the Cross attacked the food.  Tonight’s feast was one of Doug’s favorites – what Mom insisted on calling “breakfast casserole,” even if they had it for dinner more often than breakfast.  It was the second-best use for stale bread that Doug knew (bread pudding was the first), and loaded with eggs, cheese, and what must be nearly the end of last fall’s sausage.  Rounding out the meal were some loaves of fresh bread, barely cool enough to be sliced, and big bowls of fresh-picked salad.
As the family chattered about the usual chores and lessons, it was fourteen-year-old Lizzie who brought up the trip:  “So Dad – we heard the transmitter is out?  Who are you taking to town with you?”
Dad chuckled.  “All theoretically, of course?  No motive at all for asking?”
Lizzie smiled at Dad, showing off her dimples, as the other children laughed.  “Who, me?  Well, just maybe I would like a chance to wear my town dress.”
“She’s just hoping to see if some boy will notice her,” suggested Michael.  That got even more laughter, while Lizzie stuck her tongue out at her brother.
“A chance to go to Mass would be nice,” added Maddie.
Dad held up his hands.  “Whoa, whoa!  Hold your horses.  Who said I was taking anyone into town?”
Lizzie looked hurt.  “You’re not going to take any of us?”
Dad went on.  Who said I was going into town?  You know how close the baby is.  And we’re  extra busy, what with apples still to pick and the last of the corn still not in.  I’ve decided to send Doug.”
Silence fell for a half-second, then died as all the kids tried to talk at once.  “No fair!” seemed to be the most common.  “That’s OK, Doug can still take me,” Lizzie attempted.
“NO.”  Doug and his father answered in unison.  “This is a business trip, Lizzie,” Dad went on.  “So, I don’t want Doug distracted with keeping track of you and any boys you might want to make eyes at.  Besides, you’re to help Meg and Kateri with the delivery.”
“That’s right, honey,” Mom added.  “You were so excited about this baby, you should stay.”
“I’m still the baby!” Jessica insisted.
“For a few more days, baby girl.  Then you get to be a big sister.”
“Big sisters are a pain in the butt.”

After dinner, cleanup, evening chores and family prayers, finally it was time for sleep.  Even though the new gin pole and block-and-tackle had taken a lot of the work out of loading the big logs, it was still took more strength than most chores, and his muscles hadn’t completely adjusted yet.  While the trip would be a good break, it also meant that he’d lose that conditioning by the time he got back.  Oh, well, TANSTAAFL, as Dad would say.
Doug shared a room with Michael, his next-youngest brother who would be turning thirteen just before Christmas.  He let Michael chatter at him about the day, grunting or answering non-committally until he ran out of steam.  Doug grabbed a book from the small bookshelf, picked up his reading light from its charger by the window, and extinguished the lamp.
“What’s Freddo up to now?” asked Michael.
“It’s ‘Frodo,’” corrected Doug.  “I’m not sure – they finally got out of the forest with that weird singing guy, and now they’re at the gate of some little settlement in the middle of nowhere.”
“Sounds like Twin Springs.”
“Nah, it’s enough bigger than us that it’s got an inn that serves beer.  And the only Little People running around Twin Springs are all the rugrats.”
“You figure out why Dad and Grandpa are crazy about this story?”
“Not yet.”
For Christmas last year, his parents and grandparents had combined to get him a copy of the new edition of The Lord of the Rings, an old 20th-century fairy tale that had recently been brought back into print.  Dad had an ancient, falling-apart copy of it in his “no children allowed!” shelf of fragile books.  He had read through it to the kids when Doug was very young, but he didn’t remember much more than that there was a magic ring that would let you rule the world, and a bunch of battles.  So far, the story involved a lot of walking through the forest, which was only so interesting.  Real life had a lot of that already.  Except that, if Yooper forests had elves, they were extremely well-hidden.
Doug opened to “The Sign of the Prancing Pony” and read until he was sure from Michael’s snoring that he wouldn’t budge until morning choretime.  Then, he put the book on the nightstand and carefully wiggled at one of the knots in the wall planking until it came out.  Reaching in, he pulled out two small objects that glittered in the light of his LED.
Not enough for a ring, he thought, but still, maybe enough to change his world.  Houghton had a State mineral office, so he should be able to get an assay done.  And then… maybe he wouldn’t have to haul logs or shear sheep anymore.

(To be continued in Part 3…)

Categories: Fiction Tags:

All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter – Part 1

November 2nd, 2011 2 comments

Inspired by John Michael Greer’s challenge to write a future history short story free of Alien Space Bats.

(Part 1. A work in progress…)

The curse reached Doug a half-second before the smell of ozone did.  “What now, Dad?” he asked, looking up from the strap he had been tightening to fasten the logs on the flatbed to the radio shed.
“Power supply.  We’re off the air.  Looks like we’re done bonding for the day.”
Doug sighed.  Logs had to be RFID-tagged, and crypto-bonded with a secure electronic signature provided by the Timber Exchange if you wanted to sell to the Japanese, most of Europe, or the Manchurians, and those were the buyers who paid best.  His family was one of the few in West Yooper with the equipment to do it, so they had steady work bonding logs from other foresters in the State lands and taking a cut of the bonding premium after delivery.  But, the Exchange depended on real-time bandwidth to generate the signatures — and without their radio tower, they were cut off from the Mesh.
“What now, Dad?”  Hopefully not cleaning the stables…
“Got to have a working power supply.  If we don’t get back in operation soon, the backlog will be a bitch, eh?”  He rubbed his chin.  “Nothing to do but take a look at it back at the shop and see if there’s any hope of repairing it.  At least we’ve got a full load on the flatbed.”
They disconnected the power supply from the radio gear and stowed it under the truck’s bench..  “You think Grandpa can fix it?”, Doug asked as they started back towards the farmhouse.
“Maybe.  It’s pretty fried.  I swear this Brazilian crap gets cheaper every year.  Depends what else when wrong when the caps blew, soo desu?  But it’s worth a try.”
“We could just pick up a new one in Bessemer.”
Doug’s father fixed him with a cold stare.  “What part of ‘not one penny to Cheesehead taxes’ was unclear, son?”
Doug shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  Bessemer was across the border with Wisconsin, but had decades ago been Yooper territory.  It was old history to Doug, but some old-timers were still upset about loosing the Gogebic county to Wisconsin (or the “People’s Republic of Madison” they sometimes called it, for reasons Doug had never understood).  It had been a small war, compared to the terrible destruction that had engulfed the former United States and much of the rest of the world in the first part of the 21st century — really, not much more than a few drones, some technicals driving around and snipers in the woods.  But it had been enough for casualties on both sides.  His great-uncle’s family had all died in the burning of White Pine.
His father’s face softened, and had a hint of a smirk.  “Besides, you wouldn’t have time to look up that cute little redhead from the music festival anyway.”  Doug blushed hard; he did have an ulterior motive for suggesting Bessemer, but that hadn’t been it.  Her name had been Heather, and they had met at the Porkies music festival and dance.  He blushed a bit harder, remembering, and hoped his father did not know what had gone on behind the dance hall…
“If I can’t work some magic on it, you can take this piece-of-paska power supply to your Grandfather in ‘Nagon.  If there’s anyone in the county who can revive it, it’ll be him.  If he can’t, Houghton should have a replacement.”
That was enough to interrupt Doug’s memory of Heather dancing.  Houghton would be even better than Bessemer for his plan, if he could get some time to himself.  “Didn’t think you’d want to leave home for so long, with mom so close.”
“I don’t, not even with Meg handy as a midwife.  So that’s why you’re going to go.  I know you’re not as baby-crazy as your sisters.”
It was true.  Doug was convinced that every baby sucked some extra brain cells from his sisters, who would go nuts cooing and cuddling and fussing over the new one.  Sure, they were cute once they got past the wrinkled lizard stage, and eventually they got to be fun to play with, but the appeal of an newborn was lost on him.  “By myself?”
“Why not?  You’re fifteen now, and responsible enough.  I think you can handle it.  Is there some reason you shouldn’t?”
“No sir!”
“Thought so.  Well, here we are.  Get the gate, will you?”

Doug hopped out, unlatched the gate, and swung it open.  The big old diesel rumbled through, and Doug shut them in.  The ‘Welcome To Twin Springs’ sign was peeling, and he vaguely wondered why no one had repainted it.  There must be some child or wrinkle who wasn’t good for heavy work but could be trusted with a steady hand and a paintbrush… but he wasn’t going to bring it up in case it was mistaken for volunteering.  Dad had a habit of misinterpreting simple observations that way.  The hedge enclosing their little hamlet was looking ragged too, but pruning the thorny mess would come later in the fall.
He heard the piercing cry “Dougiiiie!” a split second before a flying tackle almost knocked him off-balance.  Staggering a half-step back, he reached down to grab the small figure now hanging from his waist and lift her upside-down.  “Jessiiiie!  That’s completely unfair, sneaking up behind me like that.”
“I did not sneak,” Jessica said, with wounded five-year-old dignity.  “I was right here when Dad drove in.  You just weren’t paying attention.”
“Oh, fine.  I guess I don’t have to dangle you ‘till your brains fall out, then.”
“I’d tell Mom!”
“Not with your brains fallen out, you wouldn’t.”
“You’re mean.”
“Meanest big brother in the whole wide world.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, and Doug carefully set her back on the ground.  “I hafta get eggs now.  Bye!”  Jessica ran away, towards the cluster of buildings that were their farmstead, pigtails and bare feet flying.
Doug walked after her at a slower pace, making a stop at the horse barn to check on water and feed.  As he passed by the shop, he could hear his father’s voice on the phone: “… nope, both of the caps on that side are fried.  One doesn’t look it, but it’s still not holding a charge…. OK, I’ll send it tomorrow with Doug.  Thanks, Dad.”
Doug poked his head inside the shop door.  “I heard you talking with Grandpa.  So, I’m going for real?”
His dad sighed.  “Yes, for real.  You can hitch up Jim and Jerry in the morning and take the two-seater.”

(To be continued in Part 2…)

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