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When the Corn Died: Chapter Six

Updated on March 18, 2016

Where We Are with This Story

Well, let’s see if I can summarize in a paragraph or two.

The Harpers are battling a new infestation of grasshoppers on their farm in Iowa, a new infestation along with the general problems of living in the year 1933 and slowly drowning in economic woes during the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, their only son is trying to make his way home from Missouri. He and his buddy Lucas have decided that being home with family is more important than making some money working in the mines of Missouri.

So let’s see what happens next.

Source

Last Train Ride

The two friends jumped off the slowing boxcar as it entered the switching yard. The skies began to lighten at five in the morning. The trick was to hit the ground running once you landed or else momentum would toss you ass over tea kettle. Peter landed fine. Lucas turned an ankle, let out a yelp and was limping noticeably as the train rounded a curve and disappeared from view.

“Dammit all to hell,” Lucas said as he leaned against a shed. “That hurts like a bastard.”

Peter leaned down to take a look at the offending ankle.

“Can you put weight on it? Do you think you broke it?”

“Nah, it’s not broken, but I won’t be running any time soon. Looks like I’ve taken my last train ride for awhile. No way I can run alongside a car and jump in it. I’m sorry, Peter. Looks like we’ll have to find another way home. How far do you think we are from Charles City?”

“The sign said this town is Union. If it is, then we’re a good fifty, sixty miles from home. Let’s get on up to the main road and start walking west. Sooner or later someone will pick us up in a car or a wagon. We’ll just keep hitching rides until we make it home.”

on the farm
on the farm | Source

The Next Morning

Emma delivered the bad news in the morning. She was up before all of us, unable to sleep, roaming the fields alone with her thoughts. Losing a husband will do that to a person, leave them roaming the landscape, sleepless and disoriented. As the darkness was embraced by light in the east, and as we all stumbled into the kitchen rubbing away the sleep, Emma was tossing eggs and frying bacon.

“We didn’t get them all,” she told us. There was no need to ask who she meant by “them.”

“I was walking east of that section we burned, and each step disturbed more and more of them. My shoes squished some, but the sense I got was a lot more were there, laying in the darkness, waiting for the sun to rise so they could start feeding.”

There wasn’t much to be said. I looked at Evelyn and worry crossed her brow.

“I guess we all know what we’re doing today. Let’s eat up. When we’re finished, Emma, Timothy, grab more rags, as many as you can find. I’ll grab the gasoline and shovels. We need to dig a fire break so we don’t burn down the whole farm. Evelyn, if you can make some sandwiches it would be appreciated. We’re all going to be out there all day long fighting this battle.

By the time I got out to the fields it was light enough to see that Emma’s report was true. The grasshoppers were multiplying, or so it seemed. All the fire did the day before was move them to another section, and that section was being devoured before my eyes. I spent an hour walking the area until I got a feeling for where the fire needed to be set and contained. By then I was joined by the others.

“Okay,” I said. “Here’s what we need to do. I’m going to get the tractor and plow a perimeter trench. As I plow, Emma, I want you to drop gas-soaked rags in the trench. Space them out. Evelyn, take that five-gallon can of gas and spread it within the perimeter I’m marking. When we set fire to this I want it to go up fast, so fast those critters don’t have time to escape.

“Once we set the fire, we’ll all need to walk the perimeter and put out fires that spread outside the perimeter. With any luck we can keep this thing contained and only lose an acre or so. We can live with that loss. We can’t live with this spreading. Any questions? No? Well then let’s do this, and it might not hurt if we all said a few prayers while we worked. Young Timothy, you ride the tractor with me.”

along the road
along the road | Source

Back on the Road

The boys snagged a ride with an old farmer half a mile outside of Union. He took them five miles further and then wished them luck as he turned north. They then set out walking a pace slowed by the injury to Lucas.

An hour had passed in this way when they heard an engine behind them. Turning, they saw a Ford pickup approaching, flat black with bright red wire wheels. There were two men in the cab and two more in the bed. The truck moved to the left, passed them by thirty feet and then came to a stop. The sound of the engine died as the two men in the bed jumped out and the two from the cab joined them on the road. They were all big men, early twenties, shabbily-dressed with faces chiseled by the hard times. Three were carrying baseball bats. One had a Winchester shotgun.

The one with the gun spoke for them all.

“We’ll be needing whatever money you two are carrying with you.”

Lucas always had a hot temper. It seemed like once a month or so, Peter was talking his friend down from some rant or talking him out of some fight. Peter often thought his friend had more guts than brains, and this was one of those times. Lucas limped a couple steps towards the men, hands out from his sides to show he wasn’t armed.

“We don’t have much money, Mister, about six dollars between us, but we sure as hell won’t be giving it to you and your friends. It would take more than the four of you to take money from Peter and me, so why don’t you get back in your truck and head on down the road?”

The guy with the shotgun just smiled.

“It wasn’t the four of us asking for your money, sonny. It was my friend Mr. Winchester doing the asking.” And then the silence of the Iowa countryside was shattered by the roar of the Winchester and Lucas, clutching at his stomach, fell to the ground.

Peter couldn’t believe it. He rushed to his friend’s side, but by the time he got there the road’s dust was stained red and Lucas was dead. Peter felt tears forming as the first blow from a baseball bat hit him in the back. He rolled onto his side as the blows increased in number, the blue sky blurred with motions, the pain increased and then, darkness.

trouble arrives
trouble arrives | Source

Back at the Farm

It took us eight hours to plow the perimeter and burn about an acre of corn. It was dirty, hot, thankless work, and by the time the fire died down and we could safely walk to the farmhouse to clean up, we were all dead on our feet and drained of all emotion.

Or so I thought.

The phone was ringing as we entered the kitchen. Evelyn picked it up and listened, and as she listened I swear to God the blood drained from her face, as though someone had pulled a plug and it just flowed out of her. After a couple minutes of listening she said thank you, hung up and turned to me.

“It’s Peter Junior. He’s been beaten and he’s in the hospital about forty miles from here. He and Lucas were robbed on the road. Oh my God, Peter, Lucas is dead. He was shot and killed by the robbers. We have to go to our son, Peter. He needs us now.”

And That’s Where We’ll Leave It for Now

Stay tuned. I promise another chapter of the Harper story next week. Thanks for stopping by. The Harpers appreciate all of you nearly as much as I do.

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 15 months ago from New York, New York

      Wow, I didn't see that coming to Lucas or Peter and now cannot wait to see what happens in the next chapter to come for all of them. Happy Friday, Bill and have a wonderful weekend ahead now, too!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 15 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Damned hard times. Can life get any tougher? You got me right in the thick of things with these hard times. Today you just plum tuckered me out.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine, for always being here. I hope your weekend is spectacular and you enjoy the time with your family.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sorry about that, Eric! Maybe a hot bath would help? Does anyone take baths anymore? Random questions and thanks to you.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 15 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      OMG~~~You did warn me, didn't you. That warning didn't help shield the blow to my gut just as Lucas was downed by a bullet to his. Bill, how horrifying.

      Still reeling from that blow, my heart sank to an all-time low as Evelyn listened on the phone. I felt every emotion that screamed from this page bill, as my eyes blurred in an instant.

      No hurry now bro....give us time to grieve & gain the strength to travel with Peter Sr. & Evelyn, now frantic to get to their injured son....My heart is so heavy.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 15 months ago

      Bill - Did you really have to kill one of the good guys? I guess you are thinking of real world life as you write this one, sometimes real world life just ain't fair.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      My goodness, Sis, I feel horrible now. :) All will be well in the end for this family, but they need to suffer some blows, just like the rest of us do in life. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mike, at least I didn't name that character after you, so that's a good thing, right? :) Thanks for being here, buddy. Happy Friday to you.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 15 months ago

      Bill, I appreciate that my friend.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 15 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Yes, I know~~but I don't have to like it~~& I don't. No time for sadness...now we gather our strength & walk tall like the Harpers. This family has enough courage & love for all of us. And I trust they're about to "school us.".....I'll be ready.

    • profile image

      breakfastpop 15 months ago

      You just ruined my weekend, but I'll hope for the best and move on.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 15 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This was sad. Poor Lucas. I can't understand why people call them the good old days? Well, at least, I hope the darn grasshoppers are gone. I'll be back.....

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Have a great weekend, Mike!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Paula, you can bet we'll all be going to the classroom to learn a few lessons....stay tuned and enjoy your weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      So sorry, Pop, but Lucas had to be sacrificed so the rest of the plot could play out....good times are a'coming. :) Thanks, as always.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, I call the 60's the good old days, but I don't think I ever heard my grandparents call the 30's that.....I can't imagine the suffering and sacrifice our ancestors went through....anyway, see you next chapter.

    • justthemessenger profile image

      James C Moore 15 months ago from The Great Midwest

      Hi Bill, I'm glad you summed things up in the 1st paragraph. Still, I will go back and read chapters 2-5. You publish so fast that I have to catch up. Good reading.

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 15 months ago from Missouri

      Damn you can sure paint a picture Bill! I didn't want this to end and all of a sudden it did. Keep going and bring on the next section!!

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 15 months ago from Alberta Canada

      Great story Bill... I will have to go back and catch up on them all... well done.

      Big wave from Canada

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 15 months ago from Hollister, MO

      Gritty stuff... I'm worn out, and exhausted, just reading this. Do we really dare leave the farm to go get Peter Junior? Oh, my...

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 15 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I can see the strength draining from Evelyn. So many emotions--joy and sorrow, anger, shame. And knowing that as they are receiving the news about Peter Jr. another family is receiving an even harder blow. This is something that will forever change them--Peter will never be the same happy, trusting young man that he was. Evelyn has aged 10 years in an instant.

      I'm not saying that Peter Sr. is not affected, but mothers have a certain physical, almost spiritual connection to their children. A mother's love is not stronger but it comes from a place inside of her that no one who is not a mother can comprehend. This one made me cry.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Messenger. I'm in a hurry. At my age, one never knows when the window will close. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mike, I thank you my friend. That's the highest compliment you could pay me.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Rolly! I appreciate you taking a break in Canada to read my story....hugs and blessings from sunny Olympia.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh my indeed, Bill! Tough decisions for sure.....between the proverbial rock and hard place.

      Thanks for always being here.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, you speak a great deal of truth in your comment. Mothers do have that connection for sure....now this family has some decisions to make....whatever they choose, they are going to need boatloads of strength.

      Sorry about the tears but I appreciate the compliment.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Life doesn't always work out the way we want, and sometimes our heroes have to die. I'm from Iowa, and I know all these places. I once had a girlfriend in Charles City.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 15 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Quite a turn of events. Didn't see this coming with Peter Jr. and Lucas. Hopefully things take a turn for the better. Looking forward to the next chapter. Have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Wow, Will, small world. That's where my family is from. Thanks for sharing that and stopping by to comment.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Bill! I hope your weekend is fantastic as well. We will be building an aviary.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I'm from a very small town north of Cedar Rapids called "Coggon". It has the distinction of being the only city in the world with that name, and it also has the longest curved railroad bridge in the world.

      When I was a little boy staying with my grandparents, I used to listen to the midnight train (a real steam locomotive!) go chugging by in the night just a few hundred yards away, and I dreamed of who might be on that train and where they might be bound.

      This was one of my favorite songs back in those days:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHZOkGl8onI

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an exciting installment as well as a tragic one, Bill. The story is certainly interesting! As always, I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 15 months ago from southern USA

      Oh, no, this one is hard all around. I was shocked at the shooting and killing. I did so want those boys to make it back home safe. Life can be so brutal. I hope they get the grasshopper infestation under control once and for all!

      Well, I hope there is something good coming out of all this hardship for the Harper's.

      I hope your weekend is peaceful.

      Blessjngs

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 15 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A very interesting story and you certainly know how to keep a reader's eye.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 15 months ago from london

      Sorry, Bro. I felt that one too. So sad. Well, let's see where we go next week. have a great weekend!!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Will, I have to admit, I've never heard of Coggon. Now I have to do some research.

      The midnight whistle is one of my favorite memories of Iowa. Thanks for mentioning it and sharing the song.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Alicia. I'm so gratified by the response to this simple story.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Hope and Faith, my friend. :) Thank you Faith....better times are ahead, but back then, and even now, sometimes we have to pay the price for better times.

      blessings always and Happy Weekend!!!!

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DDE! I'm very happy that you enjoyed this chapter.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Tough times, Manatita.....better times ahead, my friend....for all of us.

      Happy Weekend and much thanks!

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 15 months ago

      This ends at a sad note. Life is so uncertain.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 15 months ago from southern USA

      Hi Bill,

      I meant to mention that your book is on its way to my home! Yippie.

      I look forward to reading it and holding it in my hands.

      Yes, so true about good and bad times, without the bad times, we may not appreciate the good times as much ...

      Blessings for a peaceful weekend

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 15 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      And so here you leave me hanging....

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 15 months ago from Cape Cod

      I've been off for a while Bill, but as soon as I got back I headed for the field to see how things were growing. I knew there would be a lot of excitement - but this was even more than I expected. Kudos to you for killing off one of your protagonists. That takes guts. Writers sometimes fall in love with their inky creations and keep them out of harms way - to the detriment of the yarn. Too bad for a well drawn character like Lucas, but he took one in the belly for the greater good of the tale. ! !! !!! Thanks for this continuing saga.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes it does, Swalia, but it was necessary for the story. Thank you for being here.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, you are wonderful. Thank you so much for buying it....enjoy, and enjoy the heck out of your weekend.

      blessings always

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Right at the edge of the cliff, Rasma, and I do so without feeling shame. :) Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, welcome back and you are so right about killing someone off for the health of the story. I think it's necessary at times. Uncertainty in a tale, just like in real life. Thank you for visiting and I hope you don't stay away so long next time.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 15 months ago from The Caribbean

      I was just admiring your skill in advancing and balancing the two plots, when tragedy struck. Well, it is a part of life. It comes that suddenly!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes it does, Dora, and I was sorry to lose Lucas, but he needed to go so the plot could continue. Thanks for the kind words.

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 15 months ago from Florida

      I had a feeling something bad would happen on their travel back home. It seems there are nasty cold-hearted killers in every era of life lived.

      I always, always, get such a warm feeling with this story though. Even though I didn't live way back in depression days, I did grow up with people around me who did, and still lived the farm life of growing their gardens and putting the kids to work helping. I have so many stories of being in a garden. One that sticks out to me is when I was a young girl in Georgia, and my friend Rita wanted me to go stay with her for the day at her grandparents' house. I loved that old house; wooden floors, grandfather clock, china in the antique china cabinet. It was one of those pretty houses with the wrap around porches.

      Down the hill was their garden, and to my surprise, more than my friend and I was visiting her grandparents on this day. Overalls and burlap sacks is what I remember. Yes, it seems I visited on digging up potatoes' day. OMG! I cannot believe how hard we all worked that day to get all those potatoes. However, I love that memory. It's one I will never forget. I was so exhausted!!! Lol.

      I love reading this story, brings back great memories for me as you can tell. I'll be back next week!! ~Missy

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Hi Missy! Sorry about the "something bad" but it would be hard to write a story set in the Great Depression and have all good news. It just didn't happen. Most families suffered during those years, the farmers more so than many...but better days are ahead for the Harpers.

      Thanks for sharing your memories....great story.

      See you next week!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 15 months ago from Dubai

      Whew! What a turn of events, looking forward to the next.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 15 months ago

      Gosh, I don't know how I missed this one, but I had to go back and read it before I read no. 7. How tragic. It is so hard for me to write about tragedy, so I don't know how you do it. Anyway, this is very suspenseful and really getting good. Now I'm about to tear into no. 7.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Vellur....tragedy and the strength that comes from it....just like real life. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, thanks....not sure how I do it either. Bev won't read many of my stories because of that.....oh well, we plug along, working on our craft....thank you for taking the time to follow, and Happy Easter to you and Mr. B.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 15 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Can't say that this isn't an action packed story filled with sparks. And I just thought that this was going to be about the hard times of a nice, Iowa family.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Maybe, Deb, as you well know, regular life is filled with sparks, and the key is to notice them and appreciate them....????

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      I suppose that with chapter seven already 'in print' the cliffhanger' doesn't leave people in suspense too long! :)

      Great story.

      Lawrence

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Not too long at all, Lawrence....in fact, this Wednesday.

      blessings my friend

      bill

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 15 months ago from Shelton

      Billybuc this one was James Patterson good.. wow I loved it :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Frank, that is very high praise...thank you, sir!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 14 months ago from United Kingdom

      Oh really, Bill, can't you give these folks a break? I'm glad Peter Jr. is alive but...jeez. :(

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Really, Zulma, how many breaks were available during the real Great Depression? LOL Maybe I'm making it a bit harder for the Harpers for dramatic effect. :)

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      Shauna L Bowling 14 months ago from Central Florida

      Holy Crap! I thought the guys had gotten out of the truck because they'd gotten to where they wanted to be. I had no idea they were going to storm the two boys. Couldn't they see the twosome was dirty, tired and far from wealthy? Couldn't they see poor Lucas was limping? What cowards to pull the trigger on a man who obviously couldn't defend himself!

      I guess grasshoppers back then were like fire ants are today. No matter what you do to kill them, they out-smart us by simply picking up stakes and moving.

      It seems robbers abound, both two-legged and six-legged.

      I see some fierce fighting back coming from the Peter clan!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, I didn't think I'd ever get over here to comment. Thanks for taking the time to follow along....sad chapter for sure, but art imitates life all too often....I didn't want this to be just another Waltons episode. LOL

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 14 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Even your angst is awesome...a realistic portrayal of the woes of this powerhouse family - never to be confused with the Waltons, dear Bill... :)

      This story definitely has my attention. Love, Maria

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, you are a doll. Thank you and love to you and yours this Sunday.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 14 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      This series is so rich with courage, determination, family unity and compassion. My heart cried when Lucas was killed and Peter, beaten by those thugs. Inescapable realism fills your pages along with talent and integrity that are rare. I am speechless, and am now off to the next chapter.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Genna, you are doing yeoman's duty, reading it all in one sitting. Thank you so much. I didn't want Lucas to die but those were tough times and that reality couldn't be ignored.

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