A historical Thursday teaser from the novel
By J.L. Oakley
A couple of hours later, Hardesty was standing along the edge of the camp parade ground with the rest of his young squad mates. They all looked like they wanted to bolt. He followed their line of sight. Behind the camp craggy, white mountains painted amber by the afternoon sun leered over trees most likely bigger than anything they’d ever seen. They had startled him too when he first came out.
“Holy cow. Do you see them trees?” Costello dropped his duffle next to Hardesty with a thud.
“I see them,” Spinelli said on the other side of him. “Wonder which place is ours?”
Hardesty wondered too. The long wooden buildings lined up in neat rows looked no different from the last camp he had been in. Even the smoke brought the smell of roasted ham out of a building that suggested the cook house. It made his stomach growl.
A military type officer showed up with a clipboard and ordered the group to gather around. “Welcome to Camp Kulshan, F-23, one of the oldest Civilian Conservation Corps camps in the state of Washington. We make campgrounds, roads, bridges and fight fires. Three departments run it here: the Army, Department of Agriculture and Department of Labor. During your time here you’ll not only be sending money home to your folks, but will have the opportunity to finish high school and learn a trade. There’ll be more about that later. For now…”
Spinelli turned to Hardesty. “That true about the girl and the bear?” he whispered.
“Where’d you hear that?” Hardesty was surprised news traveled so fast.
“At the store. I didn’t know there were bears there. Only bear I seen was at the Bronx Zoo.”
“I think you’re safe,” Hardesty said.
“…shots. You’ll line up at the infirmary and get your paperwork put away. Dinner is being held for you in mess.”
Spinelli slapped his arm. “I’m doomed.”
Hardesty followed the group into the barracks and once given the parameters of his new world, tossed his duffel on the nearest lower bunk. Identical to the last one he had been in, the barracks had double-decker bunks lining the fir plank walls on both sides, twenty-five to a side. The fir floors were worn and creaky. In the middle, trunks had been dragged in and left in a jumbled stack. He spied the worn army-drab one that was his.
My whole life’s in it. That’s all I have left.
“Hey,” Spinelli said. He held in his hand the mimeographed camp paper, The Mountain Call: An Avalanche of Events. “Mind if I go up?”
“Nope. The place is all yours.” Hardesty smiled. He liked Mario Spinelli the minute they met at the train station in Seattle. He acted tough, but he had seen the kid’s eyes when they left the train two hours later and headed east into the rugged Cascade Mountains. He was scared. The whole lot of them, their false bravado trying to cover the fact that they were about to meet their match: the forests of the Pacific Northwest. For some reason, at the camp orientation, the kids started following him around.
Hardesty just wasn’t sure he wanted to be nursemaid. All he wanted to do was mind his own business and keep his head low.
Spinelli spread out his bedding and slapped his pillow before climbing down. “Do you remember where we take a leak?”
“Bath house. Out the front door to the left. How’s your arm?”
“Not a twinge,” he answered, even though he moved his shoulder like it had been struck with a bat.
Lights were out at 9:45. Taps called not long after. Soon the camp descended into snores and stirrings. Except for a family of raccoons ambling forth in the direction of the mess hall’s garbage cans, no one was out. While the camp slept, the woods leaned over the buildings and grounds, jagged black guardians poking into the starry night sky. For once there was no hint of rain.
A faint light appeared at one of the barracks doors as a figure stepped out onto the small porch and slipped down the stairs. When he was sure of the direction he wanted to go, the flashlight went out. A few yards and he was in the forest.
It was chilly under the boughs of cedar and hemlock, a musky scent of lichen and moss caught in the damp air. At an old stump, some ten feet across, Hardesty found a spot on the other side, where he threw down his jacket on a log. When he became accustomed to the space around him, he turned the flashlight back on.
He didn’t like breaking curfew, but he had a hard time sleeping. Too much crowding in after a long day. Thirty hours ago he had been in Oregon. Now he was as far away as he could get without leaving a region he had grown to love. He hoped that he could start fresh again.
He took a brass medallion about the size of a silver dollar out of his pocket. He rubbed the hard, stamped surface between his fingers and read the words like Braille:
The words rose in an arch over two wooden barracks set in the woods. Smoke from a chimney curled up to touch the middle “R” in the word “CHARACTER” overhead.
Hardesty knew the words by heart just like he knew the way the scars lay on the palms of his hands.
He had been proud when he was given it, but truth be told, some days he didn’t feel like he deserved it.
And why he ran away again.
One mistake can ruin a life. One mistake can transform it.
A government forestry camp set deep in the mountainous forests of the Pacific Northwest might not seem the likely place to find redemption, but in 1935, Park Hardesty hopes for just that.
Blaming himself for the fiery accident that caused his brother’s disfigurement and the death of the bootlegging woman he loved, planting trees, building bridges and mentoring tough, homesick New Jersey boys brings him both penitence and the renewal of his own self-worth.
When he wins the love of Kate Alford, a local naturalist who envisions joining the Forest Service, which allows only men, he also captures the ire of a camp officer who refuses to let her go.
Just when he is ready to seek his brother’s forgiveness, he is falsely accused of rape. Every aspect of his life he has tried to rebuild is put in jeopardy.
In the end, the only way he can defend himself is to tell the truth about his brother, but he risks being kicked out of the camp. Worse, he could lose Kate’s love forever.
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writes award-winning historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II. Her characters come from all walks of life, but all stand up for something in their own time and place.
Her books have been recognized with a 2013 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2013 Chanticleer Grand Prize, the 2014 First Place Chaucer Award, 2015 WILLA Silver Award and the 2016 Goethe Grand Prise.
When not writing, Janet demonstrates 19th century folkways, including churning some pretty mean butter.
Her most recent historical novel, Mist-chi-mas: A Novel Of Captivity, launched in September 2017. It is set in 1860 on San Juan Island in Pacific NW during a time with the British Royal Marines and US Army jointly occupied the island—peacefully.
Visit her on her:
- BestSelling Reads author page
- website and blog
- Amazon Author page
- Google + “All Things History”
And follow her on Twitter @JlOakley13.