Tuesday, 16 September 2014

EXTRACT: Here and Again by Nicole R Dickson

Here and Again is the new novel from Nicole R Dickson, in which a stranger appears in the life of widowed nurse Ginger. We are delighted to share an extract from Here and Again, which is available now on Amazon.

Deep in the Shenandoah Valley, the present and the past are as restless as the river mists. And when they collide, the heart is the only compass pointing home.

For nurse Ginger Martin, her late husband’s farm is both a treasured legacy and the harbinger of an uncertain future. Since he was recently killed in Iraq, every day is fraught with grief that won’t abate. Keeping the farm going and nourishing her children’s hopes without him seems as impossible as having dreams for the future—or going back into the past...

By a curious coincidence, a stranger appears in Ginger’s life, always showing up to help in unexpected and much-needed ways. He says he’s a soldier, lost and trying to make his way home, but Ginger understands that Samuel is a kindred spirit, longing to repair a life interrupted. The challenges of their hopes and longings will test who they really are in the most heartbreaking of ways. And only by coming to terms with their losses and the necessity of change will Ginger and Samuel be able to each make a future of their own—and discover at last where their true home lies...

Chapter 13

Moonshine

The house had been full of words and shuffling feet as Ginger tried to serve coffee to the Martins. They, however, would not settle; instead they followed Osbee from one room to another, trying to beat sense into her with argument and tenacious pursuit. But everyone was talking and no one was listening any longer, so the words just floated about the kitchen, dining room, and family room like a bunch of notes played absently by a small child on a piano. None of it made sense and it wasn’t a pretty tune to be sure. Eventually, the long drone of discord found its way to the door, down the steps of the porch, and was silenced by the slamming of the Mercedes’s doors. At the exact moment the car rolled onto the asphalt, Beau came slinking out of the barn. Coward.
     Ginger kissed Osbee on the cheek and, without any words, they made dinner. All was quiet as they ate, after which there was just a soft murmuring as baths were taken. Osbee mentioned something about exhaustion when she passed by the door to the bathroom. Ginger was towel drying Oliver when a mumbled “Good -night” was followed by the gentle closing of Osbee’s bedroom door. That was soon followed by Bea’s door shutting and Oliver climbing into bed next to his brother.
     By nine p.m., silence fell through the house and Ginger slowly walked around it, room to room, turning off the lights, locking the doors. As she did so, for the first time, she pondered how many people had done these things in the hundred and forty-four years the Smoots’ Farm had stood. Then she wondered why she hadn’t thought about it before this night. When Samuel and ghosts rolled across her mind, she shivered and went upstairs quickly to bed.
     There she lay down, covers tucked beneath her chin, listening to the wind and watching herself kneel in the snow near Jesse’s tree. She had asked for anything and so here she was, in an old house, on ancient land, waiting for a ghost to help her—farm.
     “Be careful what you ask for,” she whispered, breathing in the scent of coffee that was now brewing in the kitchen. She hadn’t slept a wink, and when her cell phone alarm sounded at eleven thirty p.m., she turned it off. It was time to get up—time to go to work. As she rolled out of her covers, a large shadow moved in the far corner of the room. An electric zap of terror seized her spine and instantly, she reached for the lamp next to her bed.
     “Don’t!” Samuel said, but it was too late. It was reflex; she turned the knob.
     “Ahhh!” he yelled. In the flash of light, in the second the bulb came to life, Ginger saw Samuel in the corner of the room with both of his arms flung across his face as if recoiling from a large flame. Then, he was gone.
     “Samuel?” Ginger called.
     The door burst open and Osbee rushed in.
     “What?” the old woman asked, her eyes wide as she stood barefoot in her white nightdress.
In the light, Ginger could just make out a shadow of red undergarments through the cotton. She grinned a little.
     “Uh —bad dream,” Ginger said, with a shrug as she endeavored to recover from her own start. “So sorry.”
     “Holy Moses!” Osbee said, grabbing her heart. “That didn’t even sound like you.”
     “It was a really bad dream,” Ginger added, climbing out of bed. “Sorry to wake you. Go on back to bed.”
     Osbee shot her a sideways glance, shaking a little as she turned to go. Before she left, she paused to offer, “We’ll talk tomorrow when you get home.”
     “Yeah. Oh—and Ed Rogers is coming to fix Henry’s Child.”
     Osbee stopped, gazing over her shoulder. “Who?”
     “Ed Rogers. Jesse bought parts for Henry’s Child before he, uh—”
     “Yeah, okay.” Osbee waved to stop the rest of the sentence. “Good thing, ’cause we’ll need that tractor now.”
     “Time to plow,” Ginger said as she followed the old woman into the hall.
     “That’s for sure. Drive safe, daughter.”
     “Always,” Ginger replied. “Love you, Osbee.”
     “Love you, too.”
     Ginger shut the bathroom door, stood still for just a second, and then, faster than Oliver could grab a free cookie, she was dressed and tiptoeing down the stairs. She found Beau sleeping on the couch with Regard resting just above him on the window sill. Both raised their heads as Ginger entered the living room.
     “Samuel?” she whispered. She stopped to listen. Nothing.
     “Samuel?” Stepping into the kitchen, she turned on the light. There was no sound except the popping of the coffee pot as it finished brewing.
     “Uh —sorry,” she whispered to the empty kitchen. “I didn’t realize it was you.”
     Ginger poured coffee into her traveler’s mug, grabbed her lunch from the refrigerator, slipped into her coat and boots, and quietly stepped out of the house. The yard was darker than the night before even though a sliver of moon hung above. Snow reflects light and as most of it had melted away during the day, the moon had no help brightening the night. Coming around the back of the house, she found a shadow sitting on the front fender of her truck. She halted.
     “Samuel?” she whispered.
     “I did not mean to startle you, Virginia. I was hoping to speak with you and could not determine how best to wake you.”
     “I was awake,” she replied, walking toward the truck.
     “Oh,” Samuel said, standing free of the fender.
     “Why did you yell?” she asked.
     “I cannot be in light.”
     Ginger thought for a moment. She had seen him in the day and opened her mouth to say such.
     “Electric light,” Samuel interrupted. “Electricity hurts me.”
     Ginger shut her mouth, not sure she wanted any further explanation.
     “To be in your house —itches a little.”
     “Itches,” she repeated.
     “Yes. I can will myself through your doors and windows, but not through the walls, as there is electricity there.”
     She nodded as if to indicate she understood. She had, of course, no true comprehension of what he was talking about but it seemed the polite thing to do. What were manners when dealing with a ghost?
     “Um —is that what you wanted to tell me?”
     “No. But it is why I could not help you with the sick boy on the road.”
     “Ah.” Ginger smiled. “You couldn’t get in my truck.”
     “It is full of electricity. And light hurts. Bright light hurts greatly.”
     “But not the sun,” Ginger stated.
     “No. Nor moonshine.” Samuel pointed up at the moon, which smiled down at them like the Cheshire cat.
     She nodded again and lightly danced from one foot to the other. It was cold. “I—uh –have to go to work.”
     “I know. I— Would you mind if I rode with you?”
     Ginger cocked her head. “I thought yo—-”
     “I can sit back here,” Samuel said, walking back to the bed of the truck. “And this window opens, yes?”
     He pointed to the little sliding window in the back of the cab. Oliver called it “Beau’s window”.
     “It won’t hurt?”
     “It’ll itch a little, I think. But we can talk. Would you mind, Virginia?”
     “Not at all. Mmm. There’ll be headlights on the freeway.”
     “I think I can duck. If I dissipate, though, I’ll only end up back in your orchard.”
     Reticently, Ginger shuffled to the driver’s side. “You dissipated when I turned on my light,” she said.
     “Yes.”
     As she opened the door, Samuel, who was climbing into the bed, coughed loudly and held his hand over his nose. “What is that smell?” he asked, shaking his head.
     “Jacob Esch hurled in my truck,” Ginger replied, turning on the truck. She then reached back and opened Beau’s window.
     “Who is Jacob Esch and what is ‘hurled’?” Samuel said as he lifted himself into the truck bed.
     “The Amish kid you found in the ditch. And ‘hurled’ means he threw up.”
     Ginger shut her door, turned her lights on, and began to back down the drive. There was Samuel, a ghost, sitting with his head in Beau’s window. She shivered a little and so turned instead to her side windows to back up down the gravel drive.
     “Amish. So they yet live?”
     “Yep. You had Amish back the—” Her sentence stopped with the truck. What were ghostly manners?
     “Back then,” Samuel finished her sentence. “We did.”
     Ginger put the truck in drive and slowly made her way down the road.
     “Where are you from?” Ginger asked.
     “I have said, Virginia Moon. Laurel Creek.”
     “There were Amish in Laurel Creek?”
     “No. My best friends had a friend who was from Pennsylvania. An Amish on rumspringa.”
     “I see.”
     Ginger came to the spot where she’d fallen near the fence—where Bea saw Samuel standing as she rode away in the bus. Samuel had not said anything and she looked in her rearview mirror to see if he was still there. He was, his eyes lifted to the sky.
    “Light hurts, Virginia Moon. I can smell and see and hear. But I cannot touch or taste. I am left here in the world, but am not of it. That is how the Amish say they live.”
     “How’s that?” Ginger turned right.
     “They are in the world, not of it. But truly, they are of it. They can feel the sun and the wind. They can feel warmth of soup on a cold night and taste the salt of its broth. They can work all day beneath heaven and feel the aches of their muscles. They can touch hair, feel breath, taste lips.”
     How long had it been since she’d tasted Jesse’s lips? She felt an ache in the center of her body as a car came toward the truck and she could see Samuel disappear from her rearview mirror.
     The car passed. Darkness grew. Had he dissipated? “Samuel?” she called quietly.
     “I am here, looking up at a Virginia moon.”
     She smiled and leaned forward to see it, too.
     “To farm beneath a Virginia moon,” he said.
     “Hard to farm in the dark, I reckon, Samuel,” she said with a giggle.
     “The orange one that rises on the harvest. Huge and round on the horizon. No sound but insects, the click of horse hooves, and the scour of the plow.”
     Ginger imagined the quiet of plowing so. “I love that moon,” she said. “I like it when it’s warm on those evenings.”
     “Mmm. A ginger moon,” he whispered.
     Ginger giggled.
     “What’s funny?” Samuel asked.
     “I was thinking about my name.”
     He popped up in her rearview mirror. “I love your name,” he said.
     She smiled to his reflection. “My mother always wanted to name her daughter Virginia after her grandmother. My father wanted to name his child ‘Moon.’ You know my dad? The one you want to meet?”
     Samuel nodded, staring at her intently.
     Ginger sighed, thinking about her father. Step into the light. What if it hurts? “Yeah—Virginia Moon. My hair is strawberry blonde so my parents call me Ginger Moon.”
     They had reached Highway 81 and Samuel lay down, saying, “But your hair is dark.”
     “Mood hair,” she replied, accelerating.
     “What?”
     “My hair changes with my mood. Like a mood ring.” She laughed.
     “What’s a mood ring?”
     Ginger stopped laughing with a little cough. That joke didn’t translate. There must not have been mood rings back —then. “It’s a little ring with something inside the glass stone that changes color with the heat of your body. Supposedly different colors mean you’re feeling this way or that. Doesn’t really work or anything. It’s just a—thing. It was popular a while ago.”
     “You change your hair with your mood?”’ Samuel asked.
     Ginger shook her head. This wasn’t working. “Just a joke, Samuel.”
     “Your hair changes as a joke?”
     “No. The mood thing—that’s a joke. The hair color—the mood ring.” For the love of Pete.
     “Why do you change your hair?”
     She rolled her eyes. Could she switch subjects politely? “I don’t know. To change something. To see something new.”
     “Is that why you drive so far to work?”
     Ginger thought. “I don’t think I do those two things for the same reason.”
     “We passed a hospital on our way, Virginia. It is closer to home.”
     “I know.”
     The cab of the truck fell silent. Cars passed on the left and Ginger wondered if ever anyone would believe she had a ghost riding with her. Until this morning, Samuel could be explained away logically. Now, he was her companion on her travels. Was she calling him, keeping him with her? He had said as much.
     “When my husband was alive, I was more. I was greater than I am now.”
     “You are the same person.”
     “No—not the same. I never used to question if I was pretty because he thought me so. And smart—he thought me so. It’s like I am myself and I have respect for myself, but with him, I was more myself. And he was more himself with me. Now, I am just myself. I was more because he thought me so.”
     Ginger switched into the left lane. A BMW had been going too slow for her. This made no sense.
     “Look—I was born a traveler. I had a wanderlust to see the world. To be of it and in it. To walk on as it rolls endlessly beneath my feet and be dusty and sore from the road. But with him, I didn’t need to go anywhere to do that. Every day was something new. Another day to figure stuff out with him. We weren’t done with anything. We weren’t even sure we were done having kids.”
     She returned to the right lane.
     “But now, here I am. No more kids. I didn’t even get a choice in that. I don’t even know who I am anymore or what I want or what I like. How can I raise children and do them any justice? This wasn’t our plan. We were together in this. We were greater. I want him back. I want to see him and tell him he is more—more than anything else in the world.”
     Ginger broke off, her voice cracking. Flipping on her blinker, she turned the endless loop off of 81 and onto the road that climbed into the Blue Ridge. She wept as the truck wound through Harrisonburg and crawled up the hill. The sky was clear; the air cold. She said nothing for miles as she struggled to stop crying. She came to the spot where Jacob Esch had lain drunk in the ditch and she wiped her stinging eyes.
     “Are you still there?” she asked as her voice steadied.
     Samuel slid up into Beau’s window.
     “I called to him, Samuel. That day in the snow. And you came. An answer to my prayer.”
     “I —am an answer to your prayer, Virginia Moon?”
     “As sure as I’m sitting in this smelly truck.” She sniffled, taking a sip of her coffee.
     “I have never been an answer to a prayer. I have been prayed over. I must confess I was hardly an obedient son. I perpetually spilled things I shouldn’t have touched or broke things I shouldn’t have played with or rode away to a far, distant place on a horse that was not our own. Many a time have I heard the prayer, ‘Lord, give me patience with this boy’ as the switch hit my backside. Never would my father believe I would be the answer to anyone’s prayer.”
Ginger looked up at the rearview mirror. Samuel’s face was shadowed by the light of her dashboard and he was smiling in the darkness of the empty road.
     “Well, maybe, Samuel, one day I’ll meet your father and set him straight.”
     “Will you?” He chuckled.
     “Yes.” “
     “And what will you say to him?”
     “I will say that in the darkest day I have ever lived, your son came as an answer to my prayer. And I know now—– I know, Samuel —my husband rode the Elysian Fields home and is watching over me. Watching over our children.”
     She put on her blinker and pulled into the hospital parking lot, which held more than ten vehicles. In her three shifts at Franklin, the parking lot never had so many cars when she arrived. It was a busy night at the hospital. The truck crawled closer to the lights.
     “Better go now, Samuel. This is no moonshine and I would never wish you to hurt on account of me.”
     “Very well. I will be home when you return,” he said quietly, and as Ginger turned into a parking space far from the emergency room door, she gazed over her shoulder to find Samuel gone.

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