Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Four Samples from "The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 2"

On September 15th the second volume of stories from my Secrets of Marienstadt collection will be available for Kindle. The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 2 contains four stories, one tragic, some funny, all rich in history, and Pennsylvania Dutch atmosphere. Volume 1 is currently available from Amazon and Volume 3 will be out in November. A paperback containing all 11 stories is scheduled for October. Here are selections from each of the stories in Volume 2. Enjoy!

from The Confession of Genny Franck
It was a lovely September evening – I hadn't missed a dance all summer – and the music was better than it ever had been. Whenever Daniel played it seemed people danced more joyfully. At least that's what I thought. Though I danced every dance with any boy who asked me I had a hard time taking my eyes off Daniel. How can I explain this so it makes sense? I didn't know what was happening to me. All I knew about sex was what I saw the chickens and the dogs doing. It held no interest for me. But when I watched Daniel I felt the way I did when I saw the sky all brilliant in rose and gold and violet at sunset, only a hundred times more. It made me think of the first day in springtime when you smelled lilacs or when I was working in our garden and a breeze blew and lifted my hair off my neck. Looking at Daniel felt like those things magnified. It was an incredible mystery to me.
When the musicians took a break that night, I walked down to get a cup of Mr. Zweig's lemonade. There were strings of lights between the trees but outside the circle of lights everything was dark. That's when I heard his first words to me.
You sure love to dance,” he said.
I turned toward the voice and my stomach got all fluttery and fizzy inside. He was leaning back against a tree trunk smoking a cigarette. He wore a fedora-type hat pulled down low over his forehead but even before I saw his face I knew it was him. My stomach knew first and then the rest of me did.
I'd rather dance than anything,” I said.
He grinned and even in the dark his teeth flashed brilliant white. “How old are you?”
Seventeen,” I lied. I would be in October.
Seventeen, huh?” He took a long drag on his cigarette. “Want a smoke?” he asked.
I'd never smoked a cigarette but I would have done anything that gave me an excuse to stay there with him.
Sure,” I said. “Thanks.”
He took one from his shirt pocket and held it out to me. “Have you ever smoked before?”
Of course,” I lied.
I raised the cigarette to my lips and he struck a match and held it out for me. I looked at him and then cupped my hand around his as I leaned the cigarette into the flame. I'd seen other women do that and I thought it looked very sophisticated. It might have worked if I hadn't started coughing the minute I drew in the smoke.
Easy, easy,” he said shaking out the match and patting my back. “You're quite the smoker, all right.” He laughed.
I just did it too fast,” I gasped and he chuckled again. “How old are you?” I asked.
Twenty-two,” he said. “Too old for you.”
Oh, I don't think so,” I said. My second draw on the cigarette was more successful and I managed to blow out a stream of smoke turning my head to the side. “I dance with guys much older than you all the time. Some of the best dancers are guys my Papa's age.”
Dancing?” he said. “Is that what we're talking about, dancing?”
What else is there?” I said. I thought that was pretty clever of me.
He was looking down at me with a smile that made me flutter all over. “Well, in that case,” he said, “I guess it's okay for me to ask you for a dance.” We could hear the musicians beginning to tune up. “Here,” he said, “give me that.” He took the cigarette from between my lips and his fingers brushed them lightly as he did so. “You're too young to smoke.”
He put his hand on my back and led me toward the pavilion.

from Drugs, Alcohol, Bacon, Firearms
Fischer's Mill had been built in the early 1860s as a grist mill to serve the growing farm community of Marienstadt. A dam upstream on Pistner's Run powered the water wheel that turned the millstone inside. The mill had its own railroad siding where boxcars carrying grain could be parked while buckwheat, corn, rye, and wheat were unloaded and ground. By the turn of the century the mill was so busy that a steam engine was installed to increase productivity. The Fischers added attached buildings out of which they sold feed and grain as well as building supplies such as sand and cement. For close to a century Fischer's Mill was an important part of Marienstadt but in recent decades it had deteriorated badly and was now both an eyesore and a hazard. If a bear had taken up residence there, he was a bear with very low standards, Henry thought.
The truck lurched and jerked as Henry drove cautiously down the lane steering to avoid the worst of the potholes. Though it was an early May morning the air was cold. As the road widened he saw a large gray Ram truck parked close to the edge of the lot where the bank fell off into Pistner's Run. Oliver Eberstark stood beside it, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his down vest looking off down the creek.
Oliver.” Henry parked beside his truck and got out.
Checking up on the bear?” Oliver turned toward him. In the dull light his pale blue eyes were the color of the mist rising up from the water.
Is there really a bear? I wasn't sure what to expect. The kids that told me about it were pretty excited.”
Oliver shook his head. “I chased them out of here, the little turds. More curiosity than brains. One of them went inside the building looking for the bear.” Oliver turned toward Henry. “Whoever owns this property needs to tear that monstrosity down.”
Have you seen a bear?” Henry noticed that Oliver had a rifle lying across the seat in the cab of his truck.
Yeah, he took off though.” He nodded in the direction of the creek. “I've seen that bear before. He's a big one and I think there's something wrong with him. I don't like the way he's acting.”
Henry looked down the creek but the bear was well out of sight. “What do you think is wrong? Do bears get rabies or anything like that?”
Oliver raked his fingers through his beard. “Rabies is rare but this one could be wounded and in pain. A four hundred pound black bear in a lot of pain is not a good thing. I'll give the Game Commissioner a call. Back when I worked for the Forestry Service up in Potter County we had a bad situation with a bear that had gotten into a fight with something, a dog or a wolf, I don't know, but she was pretty torn up. I had to put her down because she was half out of her mind with pain by the time I tracked her down.”
Poor thing.” Henry often wished Oliver would talk more about his years as a forest ranger. He wished Oliver would talk more about anything. He was one of the most interesting men in Marienstadt but he kept to himself and seemed to prefer that.
Yeah, listen I think you might have a bigger problem than a bear on your hands. Come take a look at what I found.” He gestured with one shoulder and Henry followed him to where one of the wooden doors into the mill's main housing was broken open.
It was dark and filthy inside with piles of junk and odds and ends of machinery stacked everywhere. Oliver bent down, picked something up off the floor and handed it to Henry.
These are all over the place.” It was the broken end of a glass light bulb. A straw was stuck through the opening and held in place with duct tape. He slid aside a panel propped against the doorway to another room. “Take a look at this.”
Henry stepped inside. There was a pile of black plastic trash bags that had been torn open, their contents spilled all over.
I don't like this,” he mumbled.
Neither did I.” Oliver hunkered down and, picking up a stick, poked through the trash. “I counted thirty bags and there's more underneath.”
Hundreds of empty paper packages of cold tablets, empty boxes of household matches, discarded metal cans of denatured alcohol, drain cleaner, and acetone, as well as empty jugs of rock salt and cat litter spilled out of the broken bags.
Somebody's making methamphetamine.” Henry stood staring down at it.
Oliver nodded. “That would be my guess.”

from The Day the Viaduct Blew Down
The very existence of the Kinzua Viaduct was something of a marvel all by itself. Candy supposed that people who lived in close proximity to amazing things were the most likely to take them for granted. It wasn't until that terrible day in 2003 when three tornadoes of incredible force shrieked through the tunnel formed by the Kinzua Gorge and collided with the old viaduct, sending eleven of its twenty towers crashing to the forest floor that he, and thousands of others, realized how much they had taken it for granted. When he heard the news he was so stunned, so unable to believe it, that he and Eunice drove up to Mount Jewett, took the familiar roads into the park, got out of their car, and walked down to the overlook. It was a dark, mist-shrouded evening. The hills were saturated from the departing storm. Rain water dripped from leaves and fog rose, gray and shifting, almost as though it was so saddened by what had happened that it wanted to drift over everything and hide the terrible sight from human eyes.
Thousands of trees were torn up by their roots and lay smashed through the entire valley. The Kinzua Creek that meandered and sparkled most days was sluggish and swollen, burdened with sodden leaves and branches. And there on the floor of the gorge lay the towers. Many had fallen neatly in line and looked as though all they needed was for someone to pull them upright, pat them into place, and say, “There now you're all better again.”
The nine towers that remained on either side of the valley looked as they always had except for where the next one should have been. The iron rails, on which steam locomotives had once carried coal and lumber and tourists, hung twisted and curled under like the ribbons on a present that had been carelessly ripped open. Candy, like many of his fellow mourners, stood speechless, tears running down his face.
Marienstadt had its own unique connection to the viaduct. The man who first conceived the idea of building it, Thomas Leiper Kane, was a Philadelphia lawyer who distinguished himself during the Civil War by forming the famous Bucktail Regiment of Sharpshooters, including the Elk County Rifles, complete with men from Marienstadt. They fought in the Shenandoah Valley and at Gettysburg where their colonel was killed when he and four other soldiers tried to capture an entire Confederate regiment. It wasn't until after the Civil War that Kane became interested in the land around Marienstadt. By the 1880s he was the president of the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad and he had a mission – to bring coal from the coal fields that surrounded Marienstadt across the Kinzua Valley to northern Pennsylvania where it could be loaded onto barges in Lake Erie and shipped throughout the country. There were, Kane discovered, two ways for trains to get from towns like Marienstadt to towns like Bradford – a long, meandering route requiring eight miles of track through rugged terrain. Or they could go straight across the Kinzua Gorge from the top of one hill to the top of the next. It was little more than half a mile but that half mile was three hundred feet up in the air. Candy marveled at the audacity of a mind that could look at that valley and think, “I need a bridge up there that trains can run across.”
At the time it was built the viaduct was the tallest train track in the world and was dubbed The Eighth Wonder of the World. It was so successful, and so useful, that it was dismantled and rebuilt in 1900 out of stronger steel in order to support bigger trains and heavier loads. It remained in service until 1959. The architect who built the bridge, Octave Chanute, was said to have commented that the rebuilt structure would last for a century. It exceeded his prediction by three years.

from Of Beautiful Strangers, Woodchucks, and Bearded Ladies.
On her way back to The Calico Cuckoo from the meeting at Mulligan Wolfe's store, Gretchen stopped at Bearded Lady Hometown Treats. Lettie waved to her from the garden as she got out of her station wagon and Stella called hello from the store's doorway.
Hi,” Gretchen said. “How did your interview with the lady from New York go?”
Good.” Stella held the door for her. “She seems like a very nice young woman. I think this is a whole new world to her.”
I think so, too. We just had a meeting with some of the people working on Father Nick's cookbook. I think she wasn't quite prepared to find so many people with so much interest in food. When I left she was going with Mulligan to take Kuni home so he could show her the herb garden he made and then they were going back to his place to tour his gardens. From the way she reacted I don't think she'd ever meet anyone like Mulligan before.”
Stella laughed. “Maybe that's because there is no one else like Mulligan.”
No kidding. I want to get a couple jars of your tomato marmalade and some pear relish before it's all gone.” She picked up one of the shopping baskets inside the door. “If her article is a good one it could do wonders for a lot of businesses around here.”
Oh, I hope so. Mandy was in right after Brianna interviewed her and Bob. She's so excited.”
Well, we'll keep our fingers crossed. I arranged for her to have a tour of the brewery tomorrow.” She lifted her basket onto the checkout counter then stopped and stared. “What,” she said, “is that?”
Stella turned. Gretchen was staring at the bright yellow poster on the wall.
Oh, you haven't heard about the bring-home-the-woodchuck people?” Stella grinned. “A guy named Arnie Foley who lived here years ago is trying to rally people to raise ten thousand dollars to buy back the woodchuck that used to be out front. Crazy, huh?”
Gretchen stared at it then smiled. “When I was in high school my sister and I used to go out to the Dairy Queen in the evening and get lemon slushies. We'd swipe a bottle of rum from our dad's liquor cabinet to put in them and we'd drive around half-hammered. One night we made our brother Dan come with us and Kris and I climbed up on top of that statue, drunk out of our minds, and Dan took a picture of us.” She smiled, remembering. “I have no idea where the pictures are but that sure was fun.” She took out her wallet to pay Stella. “I'd like to see the woodchuck back here.”
Stella nodded. “I think I would, too.”

All excerpts  are from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 2, available for Kindle on September 15.

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