I’ve worked long and hard to complete my first novel. Any of you who have done it certainly know the work that goes into it. For our Sunday Snippet I would like to offer you the opening scenes of the book. So, for your reading pleasure (I hope), here is a sneak peek at my novel, ‘Jenny.’ Please remember that this is not the final draft version of the book, so there may be some errors that will be corrected during the final edits. Also, the copyright lies with me. I hope you enjoy the snippet.
George Price lifted his goggles and rubbed his eyes. He had been flying all day and now the sun was turning red; the sky a darker shade of blue. He needed to put the old biplane down before the black sheet fell over the Earth, hiding all of its features and obstacles. He realized that he should have landed miles back, near that little town he had seen, but it was too late. The sun would be down before he would be able to find it. George could see that there was certainly plenty of open space to land, below him, but none of it seemed to be anywhere near civilization. He slowly shook his head.
It’s 1928 and the land down there probably still looks the same as it did when the Mexicans owned it.
He lowered the goggles back down to protect his eyes from the blast of air finding its way around the small windscreen.
His right hand gently eased the throttle back and the sound of the big OX5 engine dropped back to less of a roar. As he peered down onto the earth’s muted colors and ever lengthening shadows, he could see a large field off of his lower right wing with a road running through it. Looks to be as good a place as any, he thought. Maybe if I’m lucky, a car will come along and I can get a ride to the nearest town.
If anyone, down there, even owns a car.
He flew in low over the field, eyes fixed on the ground, trying to spot anything that might interfere with his landing. A gopher hole could ruin his whole day, and he had seen enough ruined days. All looked good as he flew only a few feet above the terrain with his head hanging over the side of the JN-4, the air slapping his face and the motor’s exhaust smoke filling his nostrils. Once satisfied he pushed on the throttle to climb and turned to come back around and land. As he circled the field he spotted two riders on horseback, their upturned faces standing out as white spots against the darkening Earth. He waved. They did not wave back.
George pointed the airplane’s nose at the landing spot and slowly dropped down to meet it. He felt the big biplane’s wheels gently touch the ground, and he cut the power back, the engine now idling quietly and the propeller blades revolving lazily in front of him. The machine bounced along the uneven landscape, the wooden tailskid scratching the hard surface like a hand trying desperately to find something to grab, until it finally rolled to a stop. He switched off the engine and suddenly the only sound was the crackling and popping of cooling metal. The field was endless and empty; the departing red sun just above the horizon. He pulled off his leather helmet and goggles, unstrapped himself from the wicker seat and climbed out of the wood and linen fuselage. His feet had barely touched the hard dry surface when he heard the sound of horse’s hooves pounding the ground. He looked over the faded green tail of the airplane and saw the two riders coming his way, ahead of a widening cloud of dust. As they got closer he could see ten gallon hats, rifles; one rider on a large black mount and the other sitting atop a brown and white Appaloosa. He smiled.
They aren’t cars, but a horse will work, too.
They stopped a few feet from the tail of the Jenny. The smile left George’s face quickly as the rider on the black animal pointed the rifle at his head. The other slid his weapon into a saddle holster and climbed off of his two toned horse. “What’re you doing on my land?” he asked as he slowly walked toward George. He appeared to be about fifty with a tanned, weather beaten, face and a large greying moustache.
“Uh…yes, I’m…lost.” answered George, his eyes on the man with the rifle. “Say, could you not point that thing at me?” George turned back to the older man and watched him warily as he stopped ten feet in front of him. The man quickly glanced at the airplane and then, just as quickly, his attention was back on George.
“I’ll have him stop pointing that there rifle at you, boy, when I hear some answers to my questions!”
George could feel the anger welling up inside of him, but had to remind himself that these were two armed men. He did not know them and that made them unpredictable. He willed himself to calm down. “Well, I’m lost, that’s all. Not trying to do anything but find out where I am.” Price kept looking at the man pointing the Winchester Repeater at him and very much wished that he could grab it and beat him about the head with it.
“Lost?” asked the older man. “Don’t you have a compass or something in these machines?” George watched him walk over to the airplane and peer into the rear cockpit.
“Well, yes, but they don’t tell you where you are. Just the direction you’re going.” George turned his eyes back to the rifle still threatening his head. “Is this the way you greet people around here? Up north we say ‘hello’ and offer a handshake.”
The mustachioed face continued to examine the machine’s interior. “Flying up in the air in one o’ these damn things seems like an awful stupid thing for a man to be wasting his time with.” Then he turned around and said, “Tommy, put the rifle down.” He turned back towards George.
“I don’t really care how you Yankees do things. I don’t trust strangers who pop out of nowhere and wind up on my property.”
As the rifle was lowered, George took a good look at the other man. He appeared to be in his twenties, and although it tried, his scowl could not hide his baby-face.
“That there’s my son, Tommy. My name is Earl. Earl Baker.” George was preparing to see him extend his hand, but he never did. “I own this land.”
George scanned the darkening terrain all around him and slowly shook his head. “All of it?”
Earl Baker nodded. “Bout as much as you’ can see from here,” he said; but not, it seemed to George, in a bragging way. The tone sounded matter of fact. Like he was simply telling you the way it was. George was almost ready to forgive the rudeness and even the fact that a rifle had been pointed at his head. Maybe if I owned land I wouldn’t be too happy about some dumb pilot landing on it, either, he thought to himself. I’d better just find out where I am so that I can get out of here first thing in the morning.
“Speaking of ‘here’…where is ‘here’?” he asked. “I don’t know how I got so lost. I passed a town back that way. I should have landed.”
“Yep, that was probably Corsicana. It’s about the nearest thing to a big town around these parts. You want bigger; you’ll have to go to Waco, about thirty miles southwest of here. And we’ve got Dallas about the same distance north.”
George looked out toward the darkened horizon. Thirty miles seemed as far away as thirty-thousand miles. He turned back to Earl Baker and shook his head. “Yeah, I don’t know…I just…”
“Pa, it’s getting dark,” interrupted the baby- face. “We’d better be getting home.”
Earl looked up at the sky and nodded in agreement. “Yeah, we better.” He walked back over to his horse and lifted himself up onto the dark brown saddle. “I’ll come back in the morning and check up on ya. Good night.”
“You’re going to leave me here?”
“Hell, son, it ain’t my fault you landed here,” said Earl. “And I don’t ride two people on ole’ Sandy.” He patted the horse’s long white neck and then turned to his son. The baby face shook his head, quickly, back and forth.
“Don’t look at me, Pa, I don’t want him riding with me!”
Earl shrugged his shoulders. “Well, there you have it. Guess you’re sleeping in your machine, tonight.”
The two men wheeled their horses and rode off, disappearing quickly in the dust and darkness, the younger one laughing. Like two ghost riders they vanished as if they had never been. He pulled himself out of his horsehide flying jacket and angrily threw it onto the lower left wing of the airplane. So much for southern hospitality, he thought. Yeah, guess I am sleeping in my machine tonight.
The haze and smoke almost obscured the earth but Lieutenant George Price knew that only a few thousand feet below him there were men who were dying, ugly, mud covered deaths. He gazed down over the side of his airplane at the dark brown, pockmarked landscape of no-man’s land that separated the antagonists and thought that it was as close to a vision of hell as he ever hoped to see. His DH-4’s motor drowned out the sound of the thousands of, seemingly endless, exploding artillery shells that blasted away at an already featureless landscape. Suddenly there was the sound of an engine even louder than his own and the tak, tak, tak, of a machine gun. Above all of the deafening noise he could hear the sound of a voice, screaming, “I’m hit, I’m hit!” and the bullets making a drumming sound as they pierced the doped canvas sides of the big DE Havilland observation plane; and finally, the stabbing, burning, pain…
“What…?” George opened his eyes and was startled to see a dark haired woman, looking at him and beating on the side of the airplane.
“Lord…finally. I was starting the think you might’ve have died!” she said; her voice sweet and calming. Sleep left his eyes and they began to focus. He could now clearly see the small, delicate features in front of him.
“C’mon, now. You climb on outta’ there. C’mon back to the house.” As he came awake his eyes panned the field all around him with the night, hot, and coal black. He gazed into her face and her pale skin made it seem as though someone had turned a light on in the darkness.
“What are you doing out here?” he finally asked her.
“I heard Earl telling how he’d met a pilot who landed his airplane out on his precious land. I couldn’t believe that he and my husband left you!”
Ah yes, Earl, one of my visitors from earlier this evening.
She frowned and let out a deep sigh. “I’m afraid they aren’t too likeable at times.”
“Yeah, I think I met them during one of those times.” George shook his head. “No, I think I’ll stay right here. I don’t think they’d be too happy with me showing up at their house.”
“Oh, I know how to handle the Baker men. I’m not afraid of them.”
George let out a nervous laugh. He remembered the rifle pointed at his face. “Yeah, well I am.”
She folded her arms tightly and a determined look came over her face. “I’m not leaving without you! C’mon out of this thing.” Looking around at the airplane, she added, “It, for sure, can’t be comfortable in there.”
George smiled as he adjusted himself in the seat. “No,” he said. “It, for sure, isn’t.”
“Well, then, what are you waiting for?” She stepped back away from the plane.
George sighed deeply. You must be getting old, Price, he thought to himself. There was a time you would never have turned down a beautiful women’s invitation to go back to her house. And this one is sure hard to say no to.
Oh, what the Hell.
He shook himself awake and began to lift himself up and out of the airplane. He attempted to make as graceful an exit as possible but his foot caught on the edge of the cockpit and he tumbled out head first. Before he knew what had happened he was on his back, in a cloud of dirt and dust, staring up at the young lady’s horrified face. She quickly knelt down beside him. “Are you hurt?” she asked.
George took a deep breath and shook his head. “Only my pride.”
Her horrified expression suddenly changed as she covered her mouth with her hands and began to laugh. He started laughing, too, and held out his hand. “I’m George Price.”
She moved her hands from her face and was smiling. “Well, I hope you fly this machine a lot better than you climb out of it, George Price.” She shook his hand. “Jenny Baker.”
George sat up, pushed against the side of the airplane for balance and was back up on his feet. As he dusted the dry Texas soil off of his trousers, he said, “Jenny. That’s funny.”
Her smiling face suddenly frowned. “My name is funny?”
“No, no…it’s just that this airplane… it’s a Curtiss JN-4 but everybody calls it a, ‘Jenny.’”
The smile returned. “I knew there was something I liked about it as soon as I saw it.”
George stepped up unto the lower left wing of the JN-4 and reached inside the front cockpit. He pulled out a small leather bag.
“Is that all you got?” she asked.
George stepped down off of the wing. “These things don’t carry too much,” he said as he patted the airplane’s fabric side. It made the sound of a bass drum as the vibration bounced around inside the box-like fuselage. He grabbed his jacket and draped it over his arm. “If it’s not absolutely necessary, I don’t take it with me.”
She led George back to a Studebaker pick- up truck with a red body and black fenders. It was hard to see for sure, in the dark, but it looked new. Jenny slid into the driver’s seat and George climbed into the seat next to her, his jacket and traveling bag on his lap. They both slammed their doors shut and the sounds bounced off into the darkness. He watched her as she stepped down on the floor mounted starter button and threw the truck into gear; the motor rattling through the, no longer quiet, evening. They lurched forward and made a bumpy U-turn with the truck’s headlights valiantly trying to light up the darkness. But it was a weak attempt and it seemed as though they had left the earth behind. With no city lights to interfere the stars ruled the night sky and George thought that he could plainly see every constellation that he knew of. Ahead of them, rabbits were caught in the cones of light and disappeared. A coyote, its eyes glowing an eerie red, flashed by quickly across the dirt road. She took her eyes off of the path for a brief moment to look at George. “You can see that I need to go real slow, so it’ll take a while to get to the Baker house.” She locked her eyes back onto the dark road, again.
“I’m in no rush,” George told her. “I’m enjoying the company.” She looked at him and smiled that smile again. In spite of himself, George felt a flow of warmth through his entire body.
Remember, George. She’s married and her husband likes to carry a rifle.
“How did you find me out there?” he asked her.
“Oh, that was easy, really. Earl said that you had landed near the road. This road runs through the entire property.” She made a sweeping motion with her hand as if demonstrating the hugeness of it all. “I thought I’d just keep driving ‘til I saw an airplane. Figured an airplane would be hard to miss.”
George scanned the, ink-like, blackness. “Seems to me that an ocean liner could be sitting out there and I’d miss it.”
She covered her mouth with her hand and giggled. “Well, now, that’s the second time you made me laugh, tonight, Mister Price!”
“Mister Price?” George rolled his eyes. “Oh my God. Please, call me George. My dad is Mister Price.”
She hesitated, but finally said, “Well, okay…George.” Then her expression suddenly changed. She was serious now. “It feels good to laugh. We don’t laugh, much, in the Baker house.”
The drive was quiet after that.