by R. A. Brooks
This is just an outline for my children's book.
|There’s a storm coming, thought Daniel as he sat on the old twisted oak tree. Looking over toward Possum Mountain, he saw small slivers of yellow cut through the dark clouds forming above it. Slight baby grumbles of thunder echoed their way to him before each flash of lightening. Add the rumbling sounds of the heavy equipment working around half a mile above him on the side of Natsic Mountain and it felt like he was on an amusement park ride. The ground all around the old oak trembled with each movement of the mechanical devils.
Huge clouds of dust rose into the sky as each load of ash & drudge fell from the truck beds into one of the many pits carved throughout the mountain. They hung there for a few moments, and then, as if they lost their magic sprinkle of pixie dust, dropped to the ground leaving everything in their downward path covered with a fine gray coating.
Crows flew overhead cackling their disapproval as the ding-ding-dinging of the trucks backing up chased them from their high perches in search of a quieter, safer haven.
Daniel Snedbrook was facing a terrible problem. One that was not typical for a 12 year old. It wasn't about a girl. It had nothing to do with zits. His mom & dad weren't getting a divorce. His dog, Ace, didn't die. And this problem not only affected him, but his whole family--Mom, Dad and Maggie, his younger sister. And like a disease, it also spread to three other families. Thirteen people, of all ages--old & young-- were involved----thirteen! Four families were going to be evicted from their homes if the council voted 'Yes' on the 'Bypass Project'. It was called ‘Eminent Domain’. He felt so hopeless, so helpless. With all of his heart he wanted to be the one to save the homes, to be the hero, to do what Spiderman would do.
Sounds like something special, maybe even mysterious— EM-IN-ENT DO-MAIN. Well it’s not! It is far from that. When he first heard the phrase, it meant nothing to him. “Big deal!” Daniel told Maggie. “So some trucks are gonna dump some junk into the pits. Then there will be a new road and a new bridge over the river AND a mall! What’s the big fuss about? A new mall Maggie---hello—that means you and Mom can shop everyday.”
But after seeing his parents so worried, he decided to investigate further. Daniel went to the Turkey Creek Library to find out what this ‘eminent domain’ really meant. His heart sank as these words rose to meet him: The right or power of the state to take private property for public use, or to control use, usually at an adequate compensation. But right now, to the four families living down by Hidden Rapids River, all it means is pure and simple highway robbery!
With a great deal of effort, Daniel reached deep into his memory to try to pull out a happier time. He was only three when his father took him for a walk up the mountain, but he definitely remembered it. Mr. Snedbrook was a Biologist, so he was as excited as Daniel to go up the small mountain to see what animal and plant life could be found in the area. What a delightful afternoon they had. Daniel’s dad had found many species of plant life that thrilled him. In fact, one tree he found became Daniel’s favorite spot—the old twisted oak. It came about three feet right from the ground before it was bent in a 90 degree angle. It continued straight for another four feet then with a sharp twist upward it headed right to the clouds. Dad grabbed Dan and put him—KERPLUNK—right on the tree. It immediately became Shadow, his horse.
With Dan’s hazel eyes as large as quarters and his mouth hanging wide open, Mr. Snedbrook explained how this tree became shaped in this manner. “Many, many years ago a party of Indian braves had come this way. Maybe they were on a hunt or looking for a new place to locate, but they knew there would be others from their tribe following them. So one of the braves bent the sapling as a guide for those to come. This was their way of giving directions through the forest.” Pointing in the way of the first bend, he continued, “There are others trees like this one--many others. The last one will show where the braves ended their journey.”
It wouldn’t be long before the pits were filled. With every gray cloud and ding-ding of the trucks, the time grew shorter. Shadow and all of Dan’s adventures in the area of the ‘Shadow’ would be just a story that would be passed on in the future, maybe even totally forgotten. Soon, the old oak, Shadow would be dust, a memory. Then the construction of the by-pass would begin, which meant that these mechanical monsters would start to crush the four homes down by Hidden Rapids River. The only place he had ever known as home would be reduced to splinters.
What confused him was why these homes had to be destroyed. Was it just because the town wanted a stupid by-pass? Or maybe the idea of a shopping mall across the river when the by-pass was completed was the reason. Daniel had heard a lot of people in Turkey Creek talk about the other option. So if there was another option, why was this the only one being worked on?
But even the lawyer the people had hired, Matthew Charles, who was a specialist in Eminent Domain, didn't give them much hope. "Basically it boils down to two words-You lose", Attorney Charles said. "There is nothing that can stop the greedy, uncaring corporations or heartless government from destroying lives by kicking people from their homes in the name of progress. Well, not exactly nothing. There are some loopholes and exceptions. Like proof of an endangered species (plant or animal) in the area or proof of an extinct species (plant or animal) once being in that area or even proof of the area having major historical connections would stop the project in its tracks."
Several meetings have been held within the last ten months about the 'Bypass Project'. Most people from Turkey Creek have protested all aspects of it, the dumping of the fly ash into the pits, the destruction of the houses, the safety of the town’s future, and everything that the by-pass stood for. While, of course, there were some kissie-kissies who were jumping up and down about the idea of a bypass over Natsic Mountain, especially since a major chain store was showing interest in locating across the river if the bypass was created. Maybe the most important factor to them was that they didn’t have to see their houses being reduced to dust.
The meeting earlier today was the last one where the people’s opinions could be voiced---the last chance to try to stop the continuous line of 16 wheelers from dumping waste products into the miles of old pits on the mountain. Tomorrow was the final vote of the council. Some people even suspected payoffs since it seems the trucks appeared even before the initial vote was cast.
Almost everyone who lived in Turkey Creek went to the meeting today. That totaled around 1,629 residents, from 3-month-old Mary Elizabeth Jazitski; her parents were bringing her of course, to the oldest resident, Gracie Grasswalker. Gracie had lived here all her life, born and raised. Some people even guessed she was over 100 years old. She was an independent woman, a loner. Some say outright stubborn, while others say she was just plain old crazy. But one thing for sure Gracie did not show her age, mentally nor physically. Kids in Turkey Creek for years thought she was an old witch and avoided her place every chance they could. Just looking at her place and the weird things hanging on poles all around her house could put skid marks on your undies. No one knew what they were or what they stood for, only Gracie.
But one thing about Gracie, if anyone in the town was sick or hurt, she always brought them some of her Indian medicine complete with a sprinkling of jibber jabber to go with it. Once little Sadie Tussick fell off her bike. She screamed with pain in her right arm. There was no way Sadie could move it. It looked broken. It was bent below the elbow. Right before old Doc Lewis got to the Tussick’s house, Gracie showed up with a warm kettle of her homemade medicine. “Here ya go girlie,” Gracie ordered as she gave Sadie a sip of this tea stuff. Sadie made a gosh awful face and was ready to spit the disgusting liquid out, when Gracie reached over and held Sadie’s nose between her thumb and finger, then slapped her on the back. Gulp, Sadie swallowed. Paul, Sadie’s older brother once told a bunch of kids that it looked like Sadie’s eyes were all set to pop out of her head by the time Gracie let go of her nose.
“Yuck!” Sadie yelled between spasms of spitting it out. “Mom---Mom help me,” She screamed.
Swish--a feather brushed Sadie’s nose as Gracie danced around her, eagle feather in one hand a rattlesnake tail in the other, chanting, “Eyee ie ooh ahyaha ahyaha “. Swish—the feather tickled Sadie’s nose again. Sadie’s face turned red, her arm grabbed for the feather only to catch nothing but air---it was her right arm. It was fine—it was straight. There was no pain. Sadie just held it—looked at it, then started to jump up and down. “My arm’s not broke. My arm’s not broke”. Gracie smiled at her and walked out the door almost bumping right into Doc Lewis.
“What’s going on here?” He asked.
“My arm’s not broke!” Sang Sadie.
“I see that.” After talking to Mrs. Tussick, Doc Lewis explained that Sadie’s arm probably just had the blood stopped from the fall and after resting a few minutes the shock left, blood flowed and all was well. “There was no way Gracie healed a broken arm Mrs. Tussick.” Doc Lewis stated emphatically. “That is impossible.” But all the while past situations kept popping up in his mind. Like the terrible virus ten years ago that had the whole town in bed. Even though he was as sick as everyone else, Doc Lewis tried his best to help the towns people out. Nothing he did seemed to help. Two people had died and he feared many more would meet the same fate. Then didn’t Gracie go house to house with her homemade purple tea. It was only a few days later that everyone who was sick were now as healthy as horse. In fact Gracie didn’t even get the sniffles from this ordeal. Strange thing for sure, he thought.
Mrs. Tussick smiled softly as she walked Doc Lewis to the door, “Thank you for coming Doc. I am so sorry to have bothered you.” As she closed the door, she whispered, “I don’t know how Gracie, but I know you fixed my little girl’s arm.”
Since they were expecting such a large amount of people, the council held the meeting in the school auditorium this afternoon. But as people started to arrive, it became apparent that the auditorium was turning into a giant sardine can. All seats were filled. Every inch of space had a shoe or a butt on it. Up the aisles, down the aisles, in front of the seats, behind the seats, everywhere there was floor there were people. I mean if someone passed gas in that crowd, at least ten people would faint, but wouldn’t be able to fall down. Outside, the Turkey Creek police, all 3 of them, Tim Fabeat, Jack Dodger, and the Chief, Milton Vettner, were stopping people from entering amid loud and angry protests.
All 4 families affected most by this issue were as near the stage as possible. Sitting at the table on stage were the seven council members, Mrs. Sally Grounder, the librarian; George Kelly, the local funeral director; Ms. Martha Mizken, 6th grade school teacher; Juan Picas, owner of the “Sandwich Shop” downtown; James Vitamier, V.P. of Turkey Creek’s only bank; Paula Browkitski, head of the PTA; and TJ Missinton, Firechief. Also seated there was Mayor Eduardo Edmont, and the local government official, House Legislator Don Colidimire. Now Mr. Colidimire was not an honest man, as people were beginning to find out. His name was attached to several ongoing investigations reeking of corruption.
Daniel sat looking up at the group thinking, they all look so smug—so sure of themselves. They look like—hum, what did my gram used to say—‘The canary that ate the cat’. Nah—that ain’t right. Well anyhow their expressions are saying-‘We are the winners no matter what any of you losers do or say!’ Under his breath he exclaims, “The lousy crooks!”
A spokesman for each family was well prepared to argue this ‘Eminent Domain’ issue. Attorney Charles sat with them, ready to step in if they needed any additional facts or help.
Erma and Joe Huntley, who had lived by the river for over 50 years, were the first to speak. They told how they had raised their son, Gordon, in their red brick house. That in the far right corner of the backyard, almost at the bank of Hidden Rapids, there was a small cemetery. It was where Joe and Gordon buried a lifetime of Gordon’s pets. There were Max & Billie, Gordon’s Heinz variety dogs who he tried to train like Famous TV dogs. It never worked though; they did whatever they wanted to do. Whenever he yelled ‘Go Billie! Billie never took off running, she would just give Gordon huge, drooling, doggie-tongue kisses. And Max—gees—Gordon would pretend to fall and yell for Max to help him. Crazy Max would bring Gordon a squeaky to play with. His canary, Elvis, was next to them. Elvis was named after Elvis Presley due to his great singing ability, which drove the family nuts. Seems Elvis was a nighttime singer and a daytime sleeper. Then there was a place for Speed-oh, Taco, & Andretti, Gordon’s 3 little turtles. They never did anything but live in the glass bowl on Gordon’s dresser, but he still loved them. Right next to the turtles were his two cats, Tic & Tack. Silly cats, they never came when Erma or Joe called them, only when Gordon did. Actually, Tack was always suspected of Speed-oh’s demise. Finally there were several unmarked graves that belonged to the scores of goldfish Gordon had won over the years at local county fairs.
“Gordon fell off the ladder—cough, cough—of his tree house and broke his leg the—cough, cough—summer of his 12th birthday,” Joe explained. Tears started to fall silently down Erma’s face. “He couldn’t do much that summer, so that was the—cough—the year we made the markers. We also bonded that summer in a way that most fathers would envy. Cough, cough, cough. Excuse me, “ he apologized. “Our son eventually became a police officer. Gordon would be here today—cough, cough—fighting for our home, but…” His voice trailed off.
Erma stood and yelled, “He died! He died saving someone. Our son was a hero. We lost him, now we are losing the place that holds all our treasured memories! Our son was a hero---you—you people,” she pointed up at the stage, “you are scum—low life scum!”
Joe puts his arm around Erma. “Yes, he was killed several years ago in the line of duty. It was a hostage situation. He saved the hostage, but he couldn’t save himself. Ironically we are faced with a hostage situation here. I wish my Gordon was here, he would save our homes.”
The Huntleys sat down. Erma held Joe’s face between her hands, their eyes lock. “They don’t care Joe. They don’t care. These people have no heart.”
The stress of these last 10 months has taken a toll on both Erma & Joe. As long as Daniel could remember, Erma was always a little stocky. Her gray hair pulled back into a perfect bun. There was a pink glow to her cheeks. And smiles—Daniel never once saw her without an ear-to-ear smile, except when Gorgon died. Her hazel eyes twinkled with a love for life, especially when she spoke of her son. The same with Joe--he was a tall, thin man who always laughed about his lack of hair. He claimed he misplaced it, that one day he would find it again and just plop it right back where it belonged. He also sported a neatly groomed white mustache that curled at each end. To entertain the kids in the neighborhood, he used to pull it out straight and let go---BOING it would just curl right back up to the sound of many giggles. He too had the same twinkling in his dark brown eyes.
But as Erma stood in front of Daniel, she wasn’t the same person he knew. Her hair flew in every direction like a ball of tumbleweed. The dress she wore hung shapelessly from her thin shoulders’; it seemed two sizes too small. Those once delightful eyes were now just dull spots on a sad face. It was as though this---this disease, was draining life from her.
You could hear the problem with Joe when he spoke. He could hardly say one whole sentence without that terrible hacking cough. There was no circle in Joe’s moustache any longer. It was just scraggly. It was a smoker’s cough, but Joe never smoked. He blames the fill being put into the pits for both his and Erma’s poor health.
Randy Snedbrook was the next to be heard. “Everyone knows who I am so I won’t introduce myself or my family. Heavens I’ve taught Biology at the Junior High School for over 10 years now. Probably had most of this group of people in my class at one time or another, whether as a pupil or a parent. My family is here today to strongly object to this project. I do believe we need a bypass, but there are other areas as accessible as Natsic Mountain where it could be built. Why this area? Why displace these families? Could someone please give us a reasonable answer?”
Silence from the council, silence from the Mayor, silence from the government rep.
“Gee don’t everyone speak at once.” Mr. Snedbrook said sarcastically. “Let me tell you about our first day in Turkey Creek. Then I’ll put my tail between my legs and go home, since it is obvious this decision has been already made behind the town’s back. “
Daniel knew what his Dad was going to say. A small smile slowly crept across his face as he listened.
Randy continued, “It was a beautiful fall afternoon. The trees covered the mountain with brilliant shades of yellow, red, and orange. I grabbed Daniel’s hand as we left the back yard and started our travels up the mountain.” Mr. Snedbrook went on about their adventure that day, just like Dan had remembered earlier.
When he finished the story, Randy just looked up at the people on stage. “Nothing that is said here today will change your decision about this project. It has to do with greed and lies. Someday we will know the truth.” With that he sits down.
Mayor Edmont nods approval to the waving hand of Gracie Grasswalker. “Ms. Grasswalker.”
Ms. Grasswalker stands; she tells how her mother, Small Doe, told Indian stories to her as a child. Her Mother, Small Doe was an Indian, full blood. In fact Small Doe’s tribe, the Lenni Lenape’s camp was located in Turkey Creek. One of the stories was about a secret tribe that would appear at the hatching of the ‘colored bright tiny things???? (haven’t named them yet)’. This tribe would eat the sacred ‘things’ as soon as they began to hatch. Small Doe’s tribe tried unsuccessfully to kill them. As Gracie speaks, whispers and jeers are heard here and there throughout the crowd…. yeah, right, Indians…..she’s not wrapped---Gracie the loony….gestures of Indian calls went up from the back of the auditorium.
“Those are just wild stories Gracie.” Someone yelled. “Hatching sacred things—secret Indian tribe! Come on Gracie sit down and stop wasting precious time with your nonsense. Unless Sitting Bull or Geronimo are going to come rushing to our help, we don’t want to hear you.”
The old woman turned in the direction of the voice. Her fingers flying in front of her face, she screamed back, “Didn’t ya hear me boy? A tribe of Indians once covered this area. All around here were tee-pees—homes of Indian men, women, and children—canoes rested along the banks of Hidden Rapids. They hunted, fished, played, ate, and died right here! Now what are the exceptions ta this here ‘Amiment Doomion’ or whatever it’s called? Was I the only one ta hear endangered species or historic preservation? Think about this---don’t just use yar heads fer hat racks.”
A weak laugh went through the crowd, but more people turned to listen to Gracie. The people at the main table suddenly sat up, their look of contempt changed to one of wonder—can this really happen? No—no—not enough time for that to happen, their collective minds thought.
Suddenly Mayor Edmont stood up, “Gracie we certainly thank you for your contribution today. In fact thank you to everyone who spoke on this issue. Facts have been presented here that we will take into consideration before our final vote tomorrow.”
(NEED TO INSERT THE LAST FAMILY”S ARGUMENT HERE)
“Mayor, excuse me, Mayor Edmont, may I make one statement before you close this meeting?”
Mayor Edmont answered in a trembling, weak tone, “Of course Attorney Charles.”
“I do believe that if any citizen of Turkey Creek discovers any type of artifact reflecting back to the Lenni Lennape tribe, we should postpone this project until we get expert verification that this area is or is not a historic area worth preserving.”
Huhumm, the Mayor clears his throat, “Well, we will definitely take all found artifacts seriously. However, we only have 36 hours before the final vote is needed by the government for the refusal or acceptance of this project if we are to receive government funds for it. At this time may I have a motion to conclude today’s meeting?”