Greetings, Loyal Reader!
The preview of book-in-progress Dash: Into Space! continues with Chapter 3. This is the first chapter in which the truly discerning and perceptive reader might figure out where I’m going with this. And you’ll be right! Until you’re wrong…
Chapter 3: Down on the Farm
The Eggle Farm
“My life stinks!” said Dash.
He emptied another shovelful of manure into the wheelbarrow. There would be no adventures of Tauric Strongbull this day. Uncle Hans wanted the cattle pen cleaned out and that was the only quest Dash would be completing before dinner. At least the smell was epic.
Otto, the faithful farm dog, lay nearby, gnawing on a stick. The German shepherd’s ears perked up at the sound of Dash’s voice.
“It’s no good, Otto,” said Dash. “I’m going to be stuck here the rest of my life.”
The dog wagged his tail, hoping Dash was ready to play now.
Dash shook his head. “Sorry, boy. No fun allowed.” He planted the shovel in the muck and hefted the full cart by its handles so he could wheel it around to the manure pile behind the barn. This was the fifth load and he wasn’t even halfway done.
Otto trotted along beside him, carrying the stick in mouth.
“It’s not fair,” said Dash. “Look at this place! It’s the edge of nowhere!”
The Eggle farm stood in the midst of the great Kansas prairies. There was a sturdy farmhouse of gray weathered wood, bleached of all color by the sun, where Dash lived with Uncle Hans and Aunt Emily. Past the barn and other outbuildings, nothing but a few trees broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. It was almost a hundred miles to Wichita, two hundred to Kansas City. Twenty miles just to reach Plainsville.
Dash hated life on a farm. He was sick of corn. Sick of wheat. Sick of the alfalfa fields that gave him hay fever. He hated hay. The cows stank. His muscles ached. He was sick of waking up at 4:00 a.m. to do three hours of chores before school, then more work after school, and even more on weekends. It never ended.
Dash dumped the wheelbarrow, patted Otto on the head, then looked around to see if he was alone. Aunt Emily was in the house. Uncle Hans and his farm hands were working on a busted pump clear across the property. Dash lifted the loose slat under which he had stashed a pack of filtered Tygers and a book of matches wrapped in wax paper. The cartoon face of cigarette mascot Nick Tyger winked up at him from the pack as if to say, “Ignore that sissy Surgeon General warning right below me, dude. We know the score. Smoking is cool!”
Dash lit one up and took a deep drag, let the smoke really sit in his lungs, and exhaled slowly. Ahhhhhh!
Yeah, that felt good.
Otto sat at his feet, presenting his well-chewed stick with canine optimism.
“All right, boy. One throw!” Dash tossed the stick fifty yards or so. Otto yipped with delight and ran to fetch it.
Dash coughed. Smoking was a bad habit, sure. But, hey, better he was smoking cigarettes than smoking meth, which was about the only other option out here in nowhereland. He could only manage a couple smokes a day, so wasn’t like he’d get addicted or anything. The nicotine just gave him some mild relief from the godawful soul-crushing monotony of his life.
School. Farm work. Church on Sunday. Repeat. That was it. On the rare free afternoon he might hang with Gil or go to the library. This was all Dash saw ahead of him for the rest of his life forever. He wanted to go to college—his grades were good—but he had no time for extracurriculars, and you needed extracurriculars to get in a really good school. You also needed money. But there was barely enough cash to keep the farm going, so forget about paying for college.
Otto returned with the stick.
“It’s not fair, Otto,” said Dash.
Otto wagged his tail and stared up at Dash with unblinking expectation. With a sigh, Dash took the stick and threw it again. Otto bounded away.
It wasn’t that Uncle Hans and Aunt Emily weren’t good to him. They took him in when he was little, when his mother—Aunt Em’s sister—died. They loved him. Dash loved them. That wasn’t it.
It was just…there had to be more to life than shoveling manure and baling hay and fixing tractors and water pumps and repairing fences and digging holes in the ground. It was fine for Uncle Hans. Uncle Hans loved farming. But Dash wanted to be something else. Somewhere else. Somewhere far from Plainsville, where nothing ever happened and nothing ever would.
But since Uncle Hans and Aunt Emily had no children of their own, Dash would probably inherit the farm when they were gone. And then what? He couldn’t sell it—the land had been in the Eggle family for generations. He’d be stuck here forever!
The cigarette was half gone. A few more puffs, then back to shoveling steaming piles of the main ingredient of his life: 100% USDA Grade A bulls—
Dash hurled the burning cigarette to the ground and crushed it out under his boot.
“Yes, Aunt Em!” he called. He fanned away the incriminating wreath of smoke around his head.
“Dash!” she called again from the kitchen door. “There’s a phone call for you!”
“Who is it?” Dash shouted. Probably Gil wanting to know if he might be able to get away and join the game. Fat chance.
“It’s Astrid Castor,” said Aunt Em.
Astrid? Astrid! “I’ll be right there!” shouted Dash.
Dash kicked some dirt over the discarded cigarette and sprinted for the house, immediately tripping over his own feet and doing a face plant.
“Crapcrapcrapcrapcrap!” He got up, brushed himself off, and flew around the barn and across the patch of parched grass that skirted the house. He paused only to wipe his boots on the rough mat at the base of the back steps. Tracking mud into Aunt Em’s kitchen was a hanging offense.
Aunt Emily herself sat at the kitchen table, slicing vegetables. Her red hair, pulled back in a practical bun, showed streaks of gray. Her wire-rimmed glasses rested halfway down her nose as she leaned over her work. She looked up and smiled as Dash entered, frowned as he let the screen door bang shut behind him, then smiled again as she nodded toward the phone. The receiver of the mustard yellow 1970s vintage Western Electric wall phone lay on the Formica countertop.
“I didn’t know you had a young lady friend, Dash,” Aunt Emily said. “You’ll have to tell me all about it.”
Dash winced at the thought that Astrid might overhear Aunt Em’s teasing. He wouldn’t want her to get the idea he thought she…that they were…even if he did wish that maybe…well, it would be really, really better if she didn’t hear that.
“Thanks, Aunt Em!” he said, a bit too loudly, as he snatched up the phone. “Hello?” he said.
“Dash? Hi, it’s Astrid!”
Dash swallowed hard. His stomach did a somersault. It was true. Astrid. Calling him. It was a miracle. Or something close.
“Oh, um, hey. Hi,” said Dash smoothly. “How are you?”
“Good. Hey, I hope you don’t mind me calling you like this.”
“Sure. No! I mean, yeah, it’s totally okay. What’s up?”
“I didn’t know your cell number,” said Astrid.
“Uh…that’s okay. I don’t have a cell.”
“Really? You only have a landline? That’s so cute!”
Dash cringed. “Ah…so, what’s up?”
“Yeah. So, I was reading our biology assignment, chapter 5, about the cells and the mitochondria and stuff? But it’s a little confusing, ya know? Telling all those cell parts apart. And the DNAs and ATPs and the ADP.”
“Adenosine diphosphate,” blurted Dash.
“Yeah, that!” said Astrid. “See, you know all this stuff! But, like, I’ve got to do really well in biology this semester because I want to go to nursing school, you know?”
Dash did not know. But the image of Nurse Astrid wearing one of those Halloween nurse uniforms with the plunging neckline momentarily short-circuited his brain.
“Um…yeah?” he said. He licked his dry lips.
“So I thought, like, since we’re lab partners and all maybe we could be study buddies too? And I was wondering if you’d like to maybe come over and study with me? And explain some of this to me? Because Mr. Randall goes so fast and I don’t really understand what he says even if I write it down.”
“Uh-huh,” said Dash.
“So you’ll be my study buddy?”
“Er, yeah, I guess so.”
“Don’t sound so enthused. I know you must think I’m really stupid. So if you don’t want to study with me I get it.”
“No, no, no, no!” said Dash. “I don’t think you’re stupid! I’ll totally be your study buddy.”
“Well, okay, then! That’s so awesome! So I heard we might have a pop quiz Monday and I want to do good on it so do you think you could maybe come over tonight and we could study?”
“Tonight? You don’t have a date?”
Then more silence.
“I mean not that you should have a date,” said Dash. “It’s great that you don’t. I mean, it’s not great. You should definitely have a date. If you want one. But you don’t have to. I mean…sure, I can come over. I’ll have to ask permission. But, yeah.”
“Well. That’s great then,” said Astrid. “See you at seven. Bye.” She hung up.
“Uh…bye?” said Dash to the empty line. You don’t have a date? I’m such an idiot! “Arrrrrgh!” He banged the receiver against his forehead. Idiot!
“Dash, dear, don’t break the telephone,” said Aunt Emily.
“Sorry,” said Dash. He hung up the phone and said, as casually as he could, “That was Astrid Castor.”
Aunt Emily nodded. “I know. Reverend Castor’s daughter. Pretty girl.”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Dash. His face flushed bright red. He did his best to ignore it and hoped Aunt Emily wouldn’t notice. “Anyway we’re lab partners in biology.”
“Oh, that’s nice, dear.”
“She wanted to know if I could come over and study with her. At seven. Because we have a test. And she doesn’t have a date tonight or anything.”
“Oh?” said Aunt Em. “I think she does have a date tonight.”
“What? With who?” blurted Dash, a bit too fast.
“Why, with you.” Aunt Emily chuckled and looked up from her vegetable chopping. “Dash, you’re blushing.”
“No I’m not.”
“Your face is red as a rooster’s comb.”
“Er…it’s hot in here. And I was working outside!”
“Yes, well, finish up your chores before supper. You’ll have to ask your uncle if you can go. But don’t you worry.” Aunt Emily winked. “He’ll say yes.”
And that’s our show!
Come back next episode, when Astrid says: “Mitochondria!”
Rolling out draft previews of a book I’m still writing is something of an experiment. Everything you’ve read so far is subject to change in future drafts so what you’re reading here is the “making of” before the making is done. I welcome your questions, comments, observations, and expressions of utter bafflement. I’m curious to know, for example, what readers think of Dash at this point in the story. And I hope you’re enjoying the story so far!