From Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven, available for preorder now for Kindle and Kobo, and for sale in print and all other venues on February 3, 2015.
Diary entry #1: June 30, 1981
This is Elena Elizabeth, and it’s my first time writing even though I got this diary five months ago when I turned twelve. I’ve been feeling a little guilty cuz Ma says I should be using it, so here goes. I met a new kid near Caveman Rock today. He seems like a jerk. . . .
The first time Elena saw Jesse James Wilder she was up to her elbows in
dirt and a rotting layer of last autumn’s leaves. She was a definite outdoors
girl, tall for her age and in the habit of running free all day each summer—
sometimes playing with Jen (less often Zippy or Patricia) or maybe the
across-the-field-neighbors Lisa and Debbie. But lots of times she just
rummaged around in the woods by herself.
She could spend hours looking at plants, collecting feathers,
pretending to be a pioneer or an Indian, and finding dead birds and other
animals to bury in the little animal graveyard Pa had helped them lay out
behind the camp’s outhouse. She’d be the first to admit that with only one
bathroom at the homestead, the outhouse could be useful in a pinch, even if
it was stinky and dark.
She felt safe playing outside by herself all day. Ma had never had
to worry about weirdos trolling the streets and byways for kids to pick up.
Not in rural areas like Moose Junction, and certainly not out in the acres of
woods behind their house.
On the rare occasions when Elena went with her sisters on the ten minute
bike ride down the highway to the lake (from which the nearby
town of Lake Pines derived its name), they’d all stuck together. The older
girls watched out for the younger ones, and bad drivers were more of a
concern than kidnappers.
All in all, Elena relished those summer days of freedom, coming
home at dusk and covered in dirt, and, more often than not, with twigs and
even burdocks tangled in her hair.
As it was already nearing suppertime on that particular day, she
looked quite a sight as she crouched in the dappled light, trying to scoop a
half mummified chipmunk carcass into an improvised Maple bark coffin.
She’d been concentrating so hard that she hadn’t been paying
attention to her surroundings. So when Jesse Wilder surprised her by
stepping into her little clearing with his size thirteen feet, snapping twigs
like a black bear, she’d lurched to a partial stand and nearly clocked him
with the stick she’d been using to dig at the dirt around the dead chipmunk.
In fact, she swung her improvised weapon within a few inches of his head
at the same time that she pretty much growled at him.
Both of his big hands shot up in front of him in a fist-clenched,
defensive pose as he yelled, “Holy shit!” But the terrified look on his face
immediately made her feel a little better, considering her temporary lapse
of attention to her surroundings.
“What the hell!” he added as his fists slowly came down, but his
shock was still apparent by the way his voice cracked on the last word.
Elena’s mouth turned down at the double profanities. She gave him
a quick onceover, none too impressed. First of all, he was obviously a city
slicker, and second of all, he was a boy (a.k.a. an alien species). A tall,
wiry boy, sporting a shock of honey-colored hair streaked with blond, and
staring at her through narrowed blue eyes.
She finally let out her breath, standing up out of her stooped
position. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to use that kind
“My mother died when I was six.”
That kind of set Elena back on her heels. “Oh . . . sorry.”
She didn’t really know what else to say. The truth was that she
didn’t know anyone on a personal basis who didn’t have a mother. The
thought of what it would be like not to have Ma, with her soft hands, sweet
smile, and gentle voice (except when Trish, Zippy, and Elena had been
squabbling so much that they’d driven her up one wall and down another)
took away some of the sting of indignation she’d been feeling.
But the temporary peace lasted only as long as it took for the tall,
scrawny blond kid to open his mouth again, right after he returned the
favor Elena had given him with a disdainful onceover, his expression
having shifted by now from his initial shock to a look of cool mocking.
“What are you, some kind of crazy mountain girl?” His sarcasm
was only fair considering the way she looked, she supposed, but she didn’t
much care for logic at that moment. She snorted, taking in his Jordache
jeans, Nike sneakers, and perfectly pressed Ralph Lauren shirt.
“Yeah. Just like you’re a walking billboard for name brands.”
He did something Elena didn’t expect then. He laughed.