Mystery of the Hollow Tree – Garren’s First Job (Part 1)

This post is a little different. I want to share one of the first stories I ever finished. I’m interested in using it as an introduction to my work, and offer it free.

What I’m wondering is what you think. Would you be willing to give your opinion on this piece? I won’t do anything to introduce it other than simply thank you for taking a look.

“Mystery of the hollow tree”

Garren’s First Job

by C D Myers

Copyright 2006

ISBN 978-0-9786771-0-7

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

I want to begin by thanking you for your interest in my work. This is my first short story printed in paper form, and you will be reading the second edition of that work. This booklet was the first attempt at writing for more than my simple pleasure.

* * * * *

Let me simply say, as a way to begin, that this story is an introduction to one of the characters in the much longer, and more complex, “Dawn Trilogy” – a full-length pocket size trilogy of the Old West.

The main character in this story is the US Marshal named, Garren Rader. Garren is a major character, though not the main one, in the “Dawn Trilogy”. This story arose out of a desire to introduce Garren to my readers. Garren becomes a very good friend to, and works closely with, Ross Peters, the main character of the trilogy.

One of my desires has been to write historical novels about the Wyo/Braska area, so there is also a lot of historical information in the stories I have written. For that reason, the other characters and place (Arcadia, Valley County, Nebraska) are historically accurate – though the names have been changed. The main event in this short story actually occurred and my decision to write about it was based on the curious account I was given about a murder that happened around this time, and in this location. The hollow tree, the circumstances, and so forth are based upon the actual events surrounding that crime.

Another interesting part of this story, and the whole “Dawn Trilogy” set is that many of the characters are based on friends and acquaintances from places we have lived and people we have met. Garren’s name is based upon a high school student I had the opportunity of knowing (he asked to be included in the books), as are many of the other characters, especially in the Dawn Trilogy.

The loss of the infant son, whose actual name was Charley, is the first recorded death in the town of Arcadia. His grave marker can still be found there as well. His older sister’s grave (her name is Sadie in the novel), is right to the south of his, and is another story entirely.

Various other items of historical significance are included in this fictitious account in the hopes of sharing the lives of those original settlers who gave so much to open up the area to those of us who came after them. Things such as the trip of the original family, the struggle with grasshoppers in those early years, and the stress of a severe lack of water on many occasions, are all historically accurate.

I hope and pray that you enjoy the story you are about to read, and will come back for more.

—CD Myers

The family looked even more wilted and wounded than the simple wildflowers that were meant to brighten the dreary scene. A cute little girl with dirty blonde hair and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose held the straggly goldenrod blossoms, picked down by the river, in her hand without notice as each member stood side by side next to the unpretentious grave complete with a inglorious cross made of sticks. Father, in dusty overalls and drooping bowler hat, the little girl holding his hand, and a young boy, kicking at a dirt clod that had rolled away from the hole. Only Mama was absent, and each – in their own way – wondered what had happened. If rain had come, if the grasshoppers had not eaten everything, if Mama had been stronger…if…but never this particular hole in the ground. This earth was meant to hold crops on this lonely corner of their brand-new property. This small piece of dry soil was never meant to be the final resting place for their newest family member.
It seemed like it was only yesterday that the family had been riding the covered wagon, looking for a new life; excited about the wonderful opportunities that lay ahead. The risks were real, but the rewards would be amazing, and the excitement had been a truly palpable thing.

The date at the top of the tower in the rail-yard in Grand Island, Nebraska read March 1, 1874. Father had filed on sixty acres of land along the Middle Loup River in Valley County under the Homestead Act a mere three months earlier, and committed everything they owned to the venture. He had taken a train, then ridden horseback to the site and established the claim that would be home for the family in a few short days.
“The next stop is ours.” Father turned to each child in turn and slowly shook their shoulder. Then he returned to his seat and said to Mama, “Grand Island is coming up quickly. We’ll get off the train there. You and the children can get a hot meal and have a bath.”
“Is that where we purchase the wagon?” The petite woman with long hair the color of wet sand, wore a full-length, yellow dress and a simple, hand-made bonnet; and appeared just a pinch anxious. But, most of the young mothers leaving the train in the frontier town had the same type of look.
“Wagon, supplies, horses, seed; we’ll get them all in Grand Island.”
“Papa, how far to our house?” Mont was the son, and at six years old felt compelled to ask that age old childhood question.
“It will be several days before we get to our new home.”

They left the train station by way of a lesser used side door, walked across the street to purchase a covered wagon, and headed for the hotel. While Father went looking for horses the rest of the family had a warm bath.
Two days later the family left Grand island headed northwest toward Loup City. Things got quite scary when the family was forced to fight through a late spring snowstorm, ending up stranded in the middle of nowhere for a night, and making the horribly hard decision to split the family when another homesteader was able to give Mama and Sadie a ride into town while Father and Mont stayed with the wagon.
Days later the family arrived at the sod house that would be their home until the wooden house was built. Mama would have said that it looked like a slice of heaven, but she didn’t like to lie. Instead, she struggled to get settled as the children explored their new home. Father was forced to get to work right away.
For a month they fought the elements getting their first crop in. Everything they did was a fight against the environment that seemed bent on destroying them from the start. The drenching thunderstorms turned into wind strong enough to blow the seed right out of the ground they had just placed it in.
Once the corn was planted the seedlings came up well, and they were able to enjoy the beauty of the new growth for several weeks. By the second month, the second week in July, the young corn covered the ground in a beautiful carpet of green. Father even said it wasn’t exactly Heaven, but you could see it from here. If things continued this way, they would be well on their way to a great first year.
“If this continues we’ll have enough to buy some cattle, start on the house, and maybe even buy some trees.” Papa said this with a gleam in his eye as he surveyed the field from the doorway after supper.
“Things are that good?” Mama, her name was Sarah, looked deep into his eyes trying to determine if her husband was kidding. They had been living in the soddy for four months, and every member of the family looked forward to a “real” house.
“Honey, it should be a great crop,” he ended the conversation with excitement.

The following friday everything changed. The children were playing in the yard when they suddenly came screaming toward the house.
“Mama,” Sadie was yelling the loudest, “a storm is coming. There’s a dark…”
“It’s the end of the world!” Mort made up for Sadie’s volume with a remarkable energy of his own, as he ran around in little circles like he was trying to flee the storm without losing sight of it.
Sarah rushed outside and instantly knew this was no normal storm. “Sam! SAM!!”
She didn’t get very far before she met her husband headed back to the house. He had seen the cloud from the southwest field where he had been planting alfalfa for the cattle he was sure they would be purchasing in the near future. “Get everyone in the house. It’s not a storm, it’s grasshoppers.”
Sarah wondered why Sam would be so worried about some small bugs, but something about the movement of the cloud started her toward the house. “Hurry, children, get in the house.”
Even as she turned back to the door the cloud turned into a moving, buzzing mass. There were trees along the river southwest of the house, and the huge army of grasshoppers was descending on them. Her hand flew to her breast and she raised a prayer of thanksgiving now that the tiny beasts had found food.
She didn’t know grasshoppers like these!
The cloud didn’t even seem to slow down as the bugs that found no green leaves simply continued on their destructive journey toward the house.
“Get inside,” Sam was standing next to Sarah. “I have to put the horses away.”
Sarah turned the handle of the wooden door and hurried into the house. The sound of the rushing army outside grew louder and louder.
Ten minutes later Sam opened the door and slipped through as quickly as possible. Even so, dozens of the small hopping critters followed him into the room.
“Children,” Sarah yelled, “kill the grasshoppers.”
The children screamed with joy as they ran around the room trying to jump on the evasive little creatures. They had fun until bedtime when trying to sleep was nearly impossible, with scratching and scraping sounds coming from every flat surface outside. The beasts covered the waxy surface of the windows so they couldn’t even see out.
“I wish we had the glass windows in.” Sarah was lying beside her husband, as neither one was able to sleep. “They can’t get through the paper can they?”
“Of course not.” Sam tried to reassure his wife, but he was actually worried about the same thing. He moved to the window and slapped the surface. Through the opening created in the insects he looked out on a sea of moving black creatures. It was almost as though the ground itself had come to life and was trying to run away. He turned back to his wife without a word.

Three days later the grasshoppers moved on – there was simply no food left for them. The family walked out onto what looked like a battlefield. The corn was gone, stripped to stalks only inches above the ground. The ground was nearly bare, with the waving Indian grass simply nubbins on the hillside. The wonderful crop of just days before was now a thing of the past.
A month after that the alfalfa which had failed to sprout because of a lack of rain, not a drop had fallen since the grasshoppers had moved on, looked nearly the same as the corn. The native grass that was to be used for pasture in the case of emergency was just barely peeking through the brown ground once again.

Two months later the children were surprised to be ushered out of the house. There were a number of people that they had never seen before, and a couple that were only slightly more recognizable to them.
“Joseph is going to take you home for awhile.” Sam told the children as they finished up breakfast.
“But we don’t want to go.” Mont shook his head and ran for the blanket that hung from the ceiling creating his parent’s bedroom.
“Mont, come here!” Sam’s voice left no room for debate, and he had no desire to see his son go behind that curtain. The command stopped Mont in his tracks. “You’ll be back soon.”
“Why do we have to go, Papa?” Sadie asked.
“Your mother is sick,” Sam answered evasively.
The children spent the next three days at the Matthews’ house. The Matthews family was kind to them, seeing they were scared, but those three days still seemed to take forever. Finally, papa came back for the kids, and they walked home together.
“Is Mama alright?” Mont asked.
“She’ll be fine.”
“Is she all better?” Sadie wouldn’t let the issue go with a simple “fine”.
“Yes,” Sam said it slowly, “but we’ll need to help with chores and meals for awhile. Mama’s pretty weak.”
“What was wrong with her? Mont asked again.
“You just need to be quiet and you’ll see.” Sam had ended the conversation by making sure that they understood the need to be as quiet as they had ever been. They didn’t disappoint him.

The next day the family stood around the open grave as their newborn brother and son was lowered into the ground. Sarah lay in the back of a wagon nearby, too weak to stand for the ceremony.

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