Abraham slung his backpack over his shoulders and headed down the dusty road toward town. His father asked to take him. Begged, nearly. But Abe didn’t want his goodbye, which could be his final goodbye, to be at the train depot. He wanted it at home, on their farm, where by all rights he should have been helping with chores. His father would manage without him. He had always managed. Even through the torturous years of watching Abraham’s mother drift away through the mind-dissolving dementia and then finally leave them for good, his father had managed.
Abraham hoped with every part of his soul he would return to the farm, to his father, and be there to help him manage during his aging days. It would be soon. Charles Luchner showed signs of slowing. It hurt Abe to see it. It would hurt him more to have to see his father watch him leave on that train, standing on the platform managing to control his sadness, his fear.
At the edge of his property, he kicked a rock out of his path. The long walk into town would do him good, help him prepare for what was to come. Not that he wasn’t prepared already. Constant farm chores without machinery to make them easier had built his strength and stamina well. Days of rising before the roosters to take care of the crops and the cows, and to move lines in bitter cold air and knee deep snow and in the hottest times of the summer made him sturdy. He didn’t figure war would be much harder, physically. What he wasn’t sure of was how disruptive it would be to his mind. He had no qualm about fighting as needed. He was raised to stand up for himself and those around him and did so without hesitation. And now he was proud to do it for his country. He’d never actually taken a life, though. He knew how to avoid that risk during a fight.
His father told him to be someone else out there, to tell himself he was doing good and that sometimes evil was necessary to prevent worse evil. “Never let it make you feel bad about who you are.” Charles Luchner’s voice echoed in his thoughts. “Remember your heart is in the right place and that’s what matters.” Lives came and went. They always would. The heart is what lasted. Protect the heart, he’d said.
Abraham adjusted his backpack in an imitation of adjusting his thoughts and wondered how soon his father would find the wood carving at the back side of the house. He’d done it in secret as a message for when he wasn’t there. A heart. Enclosed within hands inside an image of the farm, their farm. Abe engraved it in the back of the wooden bench swing he’d made while he kept it hidden in a corner of the barn. His father loved to sit out behind the house on nice days and simply look over their land, land passed through generations of his family, worked by many hands who loved their bit of America, as his father said. Before he left, Abe wanted him to have a more comfortable place to do it; a place that would leave a part of himself behind for his father to keep. He’d moved it out to the yard just as dawn was breaking.
As he walked, he eyed the light echo of misty mountains in the distance. There weren’t many trees in Snake River country, at least not in his part of it, in southern Idaho. What were there were rather sparse, as compared to what he’d seen during his travels back east. His father had sent him to see something of the country after he earned his diploma and before he settled in to learn how to take over the farm. Abraham’s thoughts often returned to the long train trip where he jumped off here and there to explore different territories and different people. As much as he loved the travel, he also loved the return to his mountains. To his farm. One day, it would be his. One day after that, he would share it with a family of his own. Anyway, that was his plan.
If he returned.
Tires flying up the gravel road from behind broke his thoughts and he moved into the yellowed weeds. They needed rain. But then, they usually needed rain.
The car stopped. “Get in.”
Abe sighed and looked over at Cameron. He wanted the long walk into town to be alone with his thoughts, to be alone in the circle of his mountains.
“Come on. What’re you walking for, anyway? Old man wouldn’t take you in?”
“He tried. Go on. I’ll meet you in town.”
“Have you lost your marbles? Don’t think we’ll get enough walking when we’re shipped out? Get in.” Cameron reached over to open the passenger door.
It would be pointless to argue. His friend was too stubborn. Abe threw his pack in the back seat and lowered into the front.
“So this should be some grand adventure, hey?” Cam threw the car back into gear and skidded the gravel. “A few nights in town and then off on a hero’s journey. Can’t wait to show up at Maura’s in this uniform. Bet she’ll give in to me when she sees it’s going to be real. Don’t you bet?”
“Don’t know, Cam. Haven’t met her but from what you’ve said, I’d have my doubts.”
“Aw, but she’s just scared I won’t come back, you know. And when she sees that could really be, when I show up looking like a real soldier, she’ll wanta make sure we at least have a couple days. Right?”
Abraham didn’t bother to answer. Nothing he said would matter. If Cameron hadn’t taken Maura’s hints by now, more than hints from the way it sounded, he wouldn’t take them from Abe, either. The girl didn’t want a soldier. She wanted someone who would be around. Abe couldn’t blame her.
“So come on up to her place with me. You should meet, you know. It’s about time you did, as you’re my best friend and she’s my best girl…”
“I’m your only friend, and my guess is she’s not your only girl, which could be part of her objection.”
Cam laughed. “That’s Abe. Always too blunt. No wonder you don’t have a girl. They don’t like that. You gotta learn to sweet talk.”
“Some girl might want blunt instead of roundabout truths that sound good.”
“Yeah, maybe. But not the kind I want.” He turned a corner too sharp.
Abe grabbed the dash. “Why are you in uniform already? We aren’t supposed to be. Not till we’re officially signed and sworn.”
“Didn’t you hear me at all? I’m going to go sweep my gal off her feet. Gotta look real.”
Maybe you should be real instead. Abe didn’t say it. He knew he should say it. But he didn’t. Instead, he watched the horizon, the tumbleweeds drifting in the browned flat fields, the cows in the dairy farm they passed with its odor lingering along with them. The town was barely within his view now, the grain silo at its edge a beacon of sorts.
The day before, he’d spent time along the canyon, wandering its edge, peering down the jagged rocks where not much more than a trickle of water snaked along the bottom of the wide crevice. There wasn’t much water this time of year. The way the little bit of it that went through had dredged such a huge canyon in its wake was a magical thing in Abe’s mind. He’d carved images of it now and then, in tree trunks that ended up shaped like the canyon, at least to some extent. One of them he’d sold to a bank in town. They’d topped it with a piece of thick glass, put the thing on legs, and used it as a welcome table just inside the entrance, complete with a plaque stating the “artist’s” name.
Abe didn’t feel like an artist and so it was kind of embarrassing when people made note of it and asked him what he’d done recently. He liked wood. He liked working with his hands. He loved nature. And so the wood carvings just slipped out. He’d sold a couple of other pieces, smaller, that became wall hangings or shelf decorations. He didn’t charge much. His father said he should increase his price, as much as people liked his work. But he would do it even if no one bought it, so he figured getting a few dollars here and there for things he didn’t know what to do with as he finished them was good enough.
He had packed his carving tools, though. He hoped they’d be allowed to travel with him. If not, he’d drop them by the bank to be returned to his father next time he was in town.
So begins Protect The Heart, a home front novel of duty, love, and honor.
This was fully a “write what you know” story, focused on the young woman left at home and swirling around two different kinds of soldiers.
It is also a fair bit different than my other four novels, a short read at 198 pgs (trade paperback), with old-fashioned language, and largely historical, but without a certain historical period pinned down. I’m anxious for readers’ opinions.
As it is a military story, I decided to help support military organizations with it in some way. So, for starters:
$1.00 of each print sale directly from Elucidate Publishing, &
$2.00 of each ebook sale directly from Smashwords
will go to BooksforBoots.org, to help loved ones of injured service members pay expenses to visit. I’ll also send books along to help fill their recovery time.
The book is so new, I’ve yet to add the website for it; however, you can find it at ElucidatePublishing.net and I have posts on two other blogs so far, the first with a different excerpt, and the second with a “behind the scenes” look:
If you are part of an organization that supports the military and would like to arrange a virtual signing for Protect The Heart in support of your group, contact me through the Elucidate Publishing contact page.
If you would like to help pass the word along and take bookmarks to your local library or independent bookstore, I’d be glad to give you free shipping on the print version or put the pdf version on a cd to mail, each would be personally signed. Use the contact page to inquire.
Entrenched on his father's farm in southern Idaho's Snake River Valley, Abraham Luchner pulls up roots to join the war effort. Joined by his friend Cameron Terry, an impulsive adventure seeker, Abe determines to sever ties at home in order to minimize distractions. His greatest connection with his beloved canyon and farm is in the form of charcoal sketches he works on each night to escape his present conditions, as well as the letters Cameron reads aloud from his beloved.
Maura Laerty has been claimed as Cameron's betrothed in the eyes of the community. Determined not to become a war widow or caregiver of one more soul who needs her ongoing assistance, she refuses his proposal, at least until he returns. Despite her efforts, Maura soon finds herself saddled with responsibilities that tax her resolve and turn the townspeople away. Her greatest ally comes from a twist of fate as winding and unpredictable as the great Snake River itself.