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Homegrown: Terror Rising in the Desert, 1st of 4 Sample Chapters of a Novel by cam

Updated on June 12, 2016
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Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Author's Note

This chapter and the three successive ones are the beginning of my novel called, Homegrown: Terror Rising in the Desert. I want to put these chapters here for you to read and for you to give me feedback. I tried this with another concept I had for a novel about a year ago and decided that project should be put on hold.

I hope you enjoy these chapters, and I value your opinion about the story as far as it goes here. I don't want to give too much away regarding the rest of the book. But I will say that this story is about terrorism in the 21st century. What will happen next? Something like this?

If you would like to contact me about the story, you can email me at .

Mojave Desert Highway


Homegrown: Terror Rising in the Desert, Chapter One

Blake Marshall was having a splendid time cruising along a highway crossing the southern Nevada portion of the Mojave Desert. He had begun the day with breakfast at The Grand Del Mar hotel in San Diego and proceeded to make his way toward Las Vegas via state highways. Although these roads were not as direct as the interstate routes, he could drive his Ferrari FF at 120 miles per hour on the straightaways without much concern about law enforcement.

He slowed to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. The gravel road that ran off to the northeast matched what he saw on his paper map. He knew that GPS units had their place, but Blake placed a high value on the detail and scope of a paper map when crossing the country. There was no pinching here or spreading there, no scrolling. On paper, the entire map was visible.

He turned onto the gravel road that ran northeast for forty miles where it connected to another highway. According to the map, the only sign of humanity in this section of the desert was an abandoned mining town which he hoped to explore before going on to Las Vegas for his meeting the following day.

He opened the Ferrari up on the straightaways, and sped around turns, sliding sideways. He had confidence in the vehicle’s cooling system, but with the combination of high speed driving, a temperature of 105, an elevation of nearly 4000 feet and the air conditioning running on high, the sports car overheated.

Blake poured the contents of two Dasani bottles into the Ferrari’s radiator. He was only a couple of miles from the abandoned town, but one mile later, the temperature gauge on the dashboard was again in the red.

Ferrari FF, Drag Timer to 2:00 for Desert Driving

He set out on foot and after fifteen minutes the July sun was punishing his forty-two year old body for believing his Ferrari was bulletproof. He came to a sign that declared the nearby town, known as Laughing Red River, to be private property. The map had shown the entire area between two north-south running mountain ranges to be public property overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. He made a mental note to inform the map company of this small discrepancy.

He came within sight of the town and learned that it was anything but abandoned. All the land immediately around the town had been turned into raised garden beds. Dozens of people were tending the green plants that gave the place an oasis-like appearance. Blake marched on, encouraged that he had certainly found water for himself and the car.

He approached the gardeners with more interest in their water bottles than in the fact that they were successfully growing vegetables in the high desert.

“Excuse me,” he said to the man nearest to where he stood. “My car is about a mile back toward the highway and needs water. I could use some myself after walking all the way here in this heat.”

A dozen men and women stopped their work and stared at Blake with dull expressions and half closed eyes that suggested they weren’t any more excited to be laboring in the hot sun than he had been to hike under it to their town. The man he had addressed dropped a garden hoe between two rows of summer squash and walked past him.

“Follow me,” he said.

Blake decided to take the man literally and remained a few paces back. They passed several old, single story houses along the main street, which had been given some basic upgrades. He caught glimpses of other houses on a secondary street which looked like they had also had been renovated. His guide turned and passed through the swinging doors of an old hotel. The ground floor, which might have been a saloon in the distant past, had been converted into a cafeteria style restaurant. Men and women were busy in the kitchen, and the gardener signaled for him to have a seat at one of the tables.

Blake was grateful for the chance to get off his feet and out of the sun. He kept himself in good physical condition by working out in his own gym with a personal trainer, but the controlled environment of his workout room was the opposite of this wild west desert. He watched the kitchen workers and after few minutes realized that no one was speaking. They simply went about their business in silence like so many ants in an ant hill. The gardener came back with a plastic jug of water in each hand and set them on the table. He left again, and returned with a drinking glass and pitcher of water. Blake filled the glass and drank slowly while the man waited.

“Do you think someone could give me a ride to my car?” said Blake as he got up from the table. “I don’t think I’m in any condition to hike back.” The man glanced over Blake’s shoulder and left the way they had come.

Blake turned around and was facing a very tall, very powerful looking black man wearing a black t-shirt and blue jeans.

“I’ll be glad to help you, Mr. Marshall. Would you please come with me?” he said in a voice deep and rich enough to make Barry White tip his hat and step aside.

“Yes, thank you.” Blake picked up the water jugs and followed the man out a rear exit where a pickup truck sat idling in the gravel driveway.

“It’s not valet service, but it works for me,” he said as he climbed into the passenger seat.

Blake attempted starting a conversation about the town and gardens, but the driver offered no information. When they arrived at the Ferrari, the man waited until Blake had filled the car’s radiator and started it. Then he finally spoke.

“Drive back to the highway the way you came, not through our town.”

Blake held a one hundred dollar bill out through the open window, but the man turned on his heel and walked back to the truck.

Blake drove slowly along the gravel road considering his experience in the town. He wasn’t used to being intimidated, but he had just met a man who, in a very brief encounter, had succeeded in doing that very thing. But something more than simple intimidation and a bruised ego was eating at him. It was the fact that he had been sent on his way so quickly and not as a courtesy to him. It wasn’t that he had expected the red carpet treatment, but there wasn’t even a welcome mat. He had been considered an intruder.

His business in Las Vegas went smoothly and plans for a new family oriented event center were set into motion. But as big as the deal was, Blake’s mind was preoccupied with a little, high desert gardening operation south of the city. Early the next morning, instead of pointing his Ferrari northeast toward New York City, he headed south into the eastern reaches of the Mojave Desert.

Blake reflected on his first visit to the strange little town of Laughing Red River. He had done some online research the night before in his hotel room and had found five rivers associated with the Mojave desert. These rivers flowed mostly underground on top of the bedrock but when the desert surface dipped low enough, they could be seen as pools or wetlands. Certain sections flowed above ground year round. The Laughing Red River was one of these. If the people living in the town simply wanted to raise food crops, why go to a desert where the winds and lack of precipitation would make the task so difficult? Who were all those people in the fields and in the kitchen? He arrived back at the town and pulled the Ferrari to the edge of the first garden plot and got out. One of the workers ran toward the town. The others ignored him and kept working.

The first thing he noticed when he stepped into the garden was the rich black soil full of organic material. The second thing that caught his attention was the moistness of the soil due to an underground irrigation system. This was a serious business.

Blake approached one of the workers, the man who had led him to the cafeteria the day before. He wore a light weight, long sleeved shirt, long pants and a wide brimmed hat. All of the others he could see were dressed the same way. With short sleeves and no hat, Blake could feel the sun baking his own skin. These people had the right idea.

“Hello again.” Blake held out his hand. The man stared at it, then up at Blake’s face and quickly looked down again. Blake had caught a glimpse of the gardener’s eyes. In spite of being out in the bright sun, his pupils were surprisingly enlarged. “What are you growing out here?” Blake dropped his unshaken hand. He recognized most of the vegetables nearby, but wanted to hear what the man had to say.

“Squash, I guess,” the gardener replied. “I think there’s cucumbers and some green beans too.”

Several men stacked straw bales beside the rows of vegetables. Even Blake, a lifelong city dweller, could see their use as wind blocks for the plants and shade for roots. He put the question to the gardener.

“What are those straw bales for?” He waited while the man stared at his fellow gardeners as if the question had never entered his mind.

“I don’t know. For sitting on, maybe?” he said.

Blake began backing toward the Ferrari. He was growing more and more uncomfortable with the situation unfolding in Laughing Red River. The lethargic behavior and glassy eyes of the gardeners was, at the very least, puzzling.

“More car trouble?” The smooth, rich voice came from behind him.

“I finished my business in Las Vegas and decided I’d stop by on my way home,” he said. “I thought I’d like to see your operation when I’m not in the middle of a crisis.”

“New York City is east, Mr. Marshall. You’ve taken quite a detour just to see our little— ‘operation.’ Do you have any questions?”

“Yeah, I have a few questions,” said Blake, locking eyes with the man who was showing signs of becoming adversarial. “First of all, why do you know my name, but I don’t know yours?”

“Because my name is none of your business, Mr. Marshall.”

“Fine, I’ll just call you Barry.”

“Next question.”

“Why are these people out here working when they don’t even know what they’re growing? And why are their eyes dilated like they’ve been smoking weed all day? And one more thing. If all you’re doing out here is growing vegetables, why are you so anxious to get rid of me?”

“You’re a skilled observer, Mr. Marshall. It’s too bad you couldn’t confine your questions to the work we’re doing here rather than becoming suspicious.” Barry looked toward the gardens. “During the hottest month of the year, we’re successfully raising vegetable varieties brought from the mid-east which are performing much better than those normally grown in this area. It’s pretty impressive, actually. You should have kept driving east instead of coming back to snoop around? I’m afraid you’ve given me no alternative about what to do with you.”

Blake swung around, alarmed at the implied threat. He expected an explanation, but instead, was struck in the chest with the projectile probes of a taser. His rigid body fell to the ground, completely incapacitated while the taser continued clicking out its charge. Shadowy figures gathered round. His hands and feet were bound and in his thigh he felt the sting of a hypodermic needle. When the taser was removed he kicked and flailed his arms, but his captors held him until consciousness slowly faded and blackness consumed him.


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