The Red Tree

Red Tree cover

A new excerpt! This time, it’s from “The Red Tree,” which is a short story, but one on the longish side. It clocks in at just over 10,000 words. While rain falls for weeks, the Engler family invites friends over for an evening of dealing with cabin fever together. And when the spring sun arrives, the Englers celebrate by walking in a wooded park, where they encounter a red tree away from the trail. Guesses abound as to why the tree is red when none of the other trees are.

Life returns to normal for most of the Englers. The father, Calvin, decides the red tree was a sign for him to make changes in his life and property. Changes the family and neighbors don’t quite understand. But some family members can be eccentric, and others learn to roll with it.

Below is a portion of the first chapter. If you like it, the ebook is available at Amazon.

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They feared the spring rain would never end. The gray cloud-ceiling kept releasing raindrops, like a tight formation of planes carpet-bombing Calvin Engler’s house and all the other houses in his neighborhood and the roads on which he commuted and the office building in which he worked as a manager for a business consulting company. The cloud-bombers seemed intent on turning the buildings to rubble. Occasionally, thunder rumbled, lightning seared the earth.

Dana Engler didn’t have to tell her husband the family was getting cabin fever, especially their two sons. Playgrounds could’ve been visited, but playing there would’ve resulted in very muddy clothes. Dana said, “Could you imagine them going down the slide and landing in a puddle that’s grown bigger every day?”

“The boys would probably like that,” Calvin said, picturing Zach and Ryan, one at a time, sliding down with slickened speed and landing with great explosions of arching water. Like when they cannonballed into a pool, except with darker water.

“I wouldn’t like doing the extra laundry,” Dana said. “We’ve got plenty of dirty clothes as it is.”

“You have to admit, their clothes have been cleaner since the rain. Indoor play isn’t as dirty.”

“But they’re getting sick of pillow forts,” she said.

“Me, too,” Calvin said. “They were fun in the beginning, but every time it’s the same thing. The boys get a kick out of building the fort and crawling in it for a little while. Then it gets old, so they get their soldiers and knights and attack the fort. I always have to defend it.”

“It’s more fun to attack than defend,” Dana laughed.

“Yep, and I like attacking the attackers. But they’re not into that. They get mad at me for flipping things.”

Dana and Calvin invited two families over for a Friday evening to liven up the house. The families had met through their kids in elementary school, and they met now and then for playdates and pot-luck dinners. An idea to deal with the ever-present rain was to rotate the host family for gatherings.

Calvin prepared his famous lasagna, and Dana baked several frozen bags worth of tater tots. The Clemenceaus brought Spanish chicken and rice. Neither of the adult Alversons were fond of cooking, so they brought a large salad, along with brownies made from a boxed mix, and nobody complained the brownies weren’t from scratch.

Each of the Clemenceau and Alverson families was balanced with a boy and a girl. The boys were in the same grade level as Zachary Engler. The Clemenceau and Alverson girls were older than all the boys, and often called them immature and suggested they grow up already. To which the boys replied with well-practiced farting noises made with their tongues.

The four boys chowed down dinner and returned to playing in Zach’s room, creating structures with LEGOs and racing cars on the floor and zooming robots in the air, then the cars suddenly achieved the power to also fly. The two girls, under instructions of their parents, had joined the boys before dinner, but after dinner, they retired to the living room, playing Connect Four on the coffee table.

The grown-ups took their time eating dinner and drinking wine and beer. Glad the kids were occupied and enjoying themselves. Sometimes a loud remark came from Zach’s room (“I told you this robot’s a good guy!”), but as long as an intense argument didn’t develop, the parents were fine to let the kids work it out for themselves.

“With all this rain, feels like I should build an ark,” Calvin Engler said.

“Seriously, right?” Lisa Clemenceau said.

“It’d be a neat family project,” her husband, Jeremy, said. “Plenty for everyone to pitch in.”

“Too late for that, though,” Dwight Alverson said. “It’s too soggy out there. If you wanted to build an ark, you should’ve started before the rain started falling.”

“And I don’t think our back yard is big enough,” Dana Engler said.

“It doesn’t have to carry two of every animal,” Calvin said. “Just our family.”

“So it’s not really an ark, but a boat to save us,” Dana said.

“Hey, we have to look out for number one,” Calvin said.

“You’re not gonna invite us on the boat?” Jeremy Clemenceau asked.

“Sure we will,” said Calvin, not wanting to look selfish.

“What about us?” Paula Alverson asked.

“Of course you can join us,” Dana said. “We’d be delighted to have you guys along. The company would be great, and we’d need help to sail the thing.”

“We’d need help before that,” Calvin said. “We’d need help building the thing.”

Calvin said plans for a big ship would have to be drawn up and good-quality lumber must be procured, not the cheap junk usually on sale but planks with no knots in them. Because this beauty had to be ship-shape, no leaks on this vessel. Also, they’d have to watch online videos for tips on building a water craft, tips that newbies wouldn’t know, tips passed down by professionals wanting to share their passion.

Jeremy Clemenceau added that they would need to get books on how to cut the jib and tack into the wind and tie an assortment of knots and become familiar with the delicacies of the astrolabe. The geographic-positioning apps on their phones would not work so well with much of civilization underwater, except maybe for the tops of skyscrapers and transmission towers. And a book should be purchased on the language of maritime signal flags to communicate with the ships of other survivors.

Assuming there would be other survivors, which everyone around the table hoped there would be. A lonely scenario to be the last three families on earth. Similar to the Twilight Zone episode in which a nuclear war destroys the world, and a survivor finally gets the peace to read all the books he desires, but accidentally steps on his eyeglasses and breaks them.

“I haven’t seen that episode,” Lisa Clemenceau said.

“Total spoiler alert,” Paula Alverson said. “Now you don’t have to watch it. You know what happens.”

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