The water was deeper than the boy had expected—rather, the stick he was using to gauge its depth had not accounted for his weight, and now he was sinking into the silty bottom of the aptly named Mud Creek. With each step he submerged deeper into the muck and water but it was too late to turn back for the safety of the bank. Besides, there was no other way to go: if he followed the edge of the creek north, it would lead to an endless and impenetrable swamp, if he went south, he would be back at the mill, which was out of the question, and to the west was the heavily trafficked Stein Street—where he was certain to be noticed. His only hope was to cross the wide, opaque depths of Mud Creek and trek east through the thicket until he made it to County Road 217, or Split Street as it was colloquially called by locals.
When the icy water reached his navel, he let out a short gasp as he scrambled to stand on his toes in an attempt to escape the cold, but it was in vain and he just sank back lower into the mud. He was nearing the middle of the creek and the current was now pressing against his body in a relentless surge, urging him downstream. He looked up across the water and noted with a mixture of dread and exhaustion that he was still a good thirty yards from the far bank—and the swollen stream showed no sign of easing. Despite the chilly water, the sun overhead caused him to sweat and the salty drops ran down his dirty face in steaks, stinging as they got in his eyes. The effort of resisting the current and pulling his feet from the mud with each laborious step was sapping his strength. He dug his stick into the bottom to steady his balance before reaching up with a wet hand to wipe the sweat from his eyes. Some of the chilly creek water ran down his face and into his panting mouth, cooling his hot breath. Tastes better than I expected, he thought to himself before resuming his slow battle across the raging creek.
When he had first entered the water, he tried holding his backpack over his head to protect the contents. It had worked for the initial few shaky steps into the creek, but as the water began to increase its speed—and balance became more demanding—he was forced to return the heavy bag to his back and leave the books inside to fate. Now, in the middle of the channel and with the water nearing his chest, the force was pushing sideways against the bag and the boy struggled to stay facing forward. Twisting his body against the current he repeated his mantra in his head as he trudged forward, sinking deeper still: stick down, lean into the current, right foot, left foot, lean into the current, stick up, stick down, trying to force his body to adopt the rhythm. The swift water swirled around his torso—creating little brown eddies at his sides that darted off downstream—as he made slow and determined progress.
When he was only twenty five feet from the far bank the boy started to plant his left foot down into the muddy creek bed—only this time rather than sinking into the mire beneath the water his sneaker was stopped by something hard and unyielding. With his other foot and wading stick planted deep in the mud, the unexpected resistance disrupted his momentum. The boy’s left sneaker slipped forward off the buried obstacle and his center of gravity was lost. In a flash his defense against the strong current collapsed: with no solid purchase on the creek bottom, his left leg immediately surrendered to the rush of water and his body spun around until he was facing downstream, leg still outstretched underwater like a weathervane. The sudden pull caused his right foot to slip from the mud as well, and in an instant he pitched forward and was swept downstream.
His backpack—already filed with water and books—immediately betrayed him and dove for the bottom. As he struggled to the surface, his head fighting to stay above the fast moving water, the creek bank rushed by in a blurry swath of green. Coughing up the chilly water, he tried to drag his toes into the creek bed in an effort to slow himself, but the mud below yielded to the slightest attempt to hold fast and the current again forced his head under before he was able clamber back to the surface. His wading stick was no longer any help—rather than stop him it only caused him to spin towards the current, water crashing into his face, before pulling free of the mud. After the second attempt he quit trying it altogether.
How much have I drifted already? A hundred yards? Two hundred? The boy tried to guess how close he was now to the Drake River, the large and slow moving terminus of Mud Creek. Surely he wouldn’t drift that far. He refused to consider what he would do if he did, in fact, reach it. Now, at the mercy of the current, he quickly figured his odds and knew there was no other possible option. Inhaling one last deep breath, he allowed himself to be pulled beneath the surface where at least he would not have to fight gravity and the current. With his eyes closed against the brown glow below the surface, he released his grip on his stick and let his arms fall limp as his body twisted to face upstream. To the boy’s relief, the relentless current immediately pulled the backpack from his shoulders in a jerk before sweeping it away. Thank god; if I survive this I’ll get new stinkin’ books, he thought, suddenly wishing he’d tossed it earlier.
Able to control his body again at last, the boy turned underwater in the direction of the far bank and began to frog kick, keeping the current on his right side as best as he could. Breaking the surface for a gulp of fresh air, the rush of the creek thundered in his ears. Water buffeted his face—going into his eyes and mouth—as he continued to stroke, but he could tell that for the most part he was moving in the right direction. It was easier for him to swim under the surface where the splashing water didn’t blind and choke him, but not being able to see was unnerving, and he sensed unseen obstacles rushing by in the darkness. A new rhythm emerged to replace his previous cadence: Up, exhale, kick-stroke, inhale, under, frog-kick, frog-kick, up. His progress across the creek was slow—how far he had already drifted downstream was anyone’s guess—but it was still progress. Just before his burning lungs and muscles gave out, the water relented at last.
The current, so obnoxious and strong just moments ago, now leaned against him with an apologetic softness as the creek made a lazy arch around a bend. Letting his legs sink down, he found that he was finally able to firmly plant his feet in the muddy bottom. He no longer had his wading stick to aide in balancing, but the creek had also claimed his heavy backpack, so he was able to keep his heading without difficulty. He walked towards the shore while scanning the bank in search of something that would tell him where he was, but just what he expected to find, he didn’t know. It was pointless of course; he wasn’t bound to recognize anything—he had never been this far downstream before. Abandoning any hope of that, he started looking for a place along the vegetation-choked bank where he could easily climb out of the water. The shore he had embarked from was a gentle slope to the water’s edge, like a gradual and muddy beach. This far downstream however, the bank rose up in a wall of crumbling dirt nearly as tall as him. The bushes crowded to the creek’s edge, towering shoulder to shoulder like lumbering animals gazing down at a watering hole.
Standing in the now waist deep water and staring at the brush, he selected a likely route up the muddy wall and into the woods beyond. He no longer cared where he was along the creek so long as he could get out of the malevolent water before it killed him. He had lost his backpack and, looking down, he saw that his clothes were ruined; there’s no hope of hiding things now, he thought with finality. The boy looked at his watch: 12:30 p.m. His classmates would all be leaving the cafeteria—stomachs full of food—to go back to the comfort and safety of the classroom. I should be with them, he thought, suddenly remembering his own lunch inside his backpack. Not out here—wherever here is. He pushed through the now benign current with deliberate steps towards the likely breach above. Reaching the ankle-deep water of shore at last, the boy kept moving—relieved to be out of the abusive current once and for all. In one fluid motion he quickly hopped upward, arm extended, and grabbed ahold of a stout bush by the trunk with his wet hand. He let the sapling hold his full weight for a moment, testing its strength before committing to the climb. Tightening his grip, the boy dug his ruined sneakers into the muddy bank and began to ascend.
As the first rays of the morning sun slipped past Jesse’s bedroom curtain, he could hear his father’s truck backing out of the driveway—it’s tired springs protesting with a chorus of groans as it lumbered onto the still-sleepy street. Without opening his eyes to the sun, he listened to his mother hurriedly gathering the last of her scattered belongings before racing out the door. “Jesse!” she called from the kitchen as she shut the refrigerator with a clang. “I’m leaving, Jesse,” she persisted louder, drawing out his name. “I’m up, mom” he called from his bed as he raised a hand to his brow to shield the abrasive sunlight. “Have a good day, I love you. Remember not to eat too much after school, we’re going to the Obermann’s for dinner when your father gets home,” she called out as a hurried goodbye. Jesse groaned, not the Obermann’s again. His mother would insist that he spend the evening playing with their daughter, Maddie. Jesse had tried on several occasions to explain to his mom that a twelve year old boy and a nine year old girl do not play similar things, but it was always met by her typical hard stare that meant the subject was not open for discussion.
Sitting up in his bed, he simply said “Okay” in a raised voice and swung his feet onto the floor as his mother shut the kitchen door behind her before leaving for work. He had all day to think of a way out of the Obermann’s, he reasoned. Jesse was used to preparing for school alone each morning. For all of his life his parents had worked during the week—leaving in the morning before he had to be at the school and coming home long after he returned in the afternoon. When he was younger there had been a kaleidoscope of babysitters to see him off each morning and greet him dutifully at the end of the day: family members, college kids on semester break, even at one brief point a cranky, silver-haired spinster straight off the movie screen. Eventually his parents had either decided that the job of safeguarding him was not much worth paying for, or that Ashcroft was not a town that parents had to worry about their children being snatched off the street on their way to and from school. Whatever the reason, Jesse had come to appreciate the mornings where he had the house to himself and used the silence to slowly ease into his day. He hated the chaotic weekend mornings—or the days with no school when his aunt or grandmother watched him—and he was met with a fusillade of questions and demands as soon as he got up.
He walked to the hallway bathroom still rubbing last night’s sleep from his eyes and turned on the light inside. Looking into the mirror through squinted eyes, his disheveled reflection stared back at him. Sandy brown hair was sticking up in erratic angles and a pillow crease ran across his lightly freckled cheeks reminding him of a scarecrow. After washing his face and brushing his teeth, he tossed the towel on the edge of the sink and went back to his room to get dressed into the clothes he had laid out the night before. He pulled on his jeans and buttoned his blue and white plaid shirt before slipping into his shoes and taking the bookbag from his desk chair. Scanning the room one last time to ensure he didn’t forget anything he walked out, shutting the door behind him.
Downstairs in the kitchen Jesse poured cereal into a bowl before sitting down at the table and adding milk. Like most days, sitting in the empty house with the morning news anchors murmuring the latest catastrophes on the television in the other room, he wished again that his father would let him get a dog. Dogs weren’t people. Their morning demands get a pass, he thought, chewing his cereal. He occasionally brought the subject up when he thought the timing was good. He didn’t expect the notoriously stubborn man to relent, but he also didn’t want the subject to slip into obscurity either.
His father had worked as a linesman for the power company, Ashcroft Electric and Power, since before Jesse was born. Most days his schedule was regular, leaving in the mornings before Jesse woke, and home at night before anyone suffered too badly awaiting supper. On occasion a storm would blow a tree down over a power line, or someone would dig without having the area surveyed for buried cables, and he would need to leave on emergency call-outs. Thankfully most emergency call-outs were at night or on the weekends, times when Jesse’s mother was there to be home with him. Even at twelve, when a strong storm raged in the night, he still felt better with his mother there.
Landing a job at Sterling Credit Union right out of high school, Jesse’s mother had worked her way up from lowly teller to branch manager—all while attending night classes at the community college. A kind and caring lady, she was also determined to succeed in life, and that meant that sometimes Jesse got lost in the shuffle. Because of this she made it a point to set time aside each week just for the two of them—going together to get ice cream, or to see a movie—but most days their contact was limited to abbreviated conversations about their day at the dinner table. But Jesse didn’t feel forgotten or ignored the way some of his friends did. He spent most of his time reading books about adventures in far away places. The stories engrossed him so much that hours would pass by without him realizing it. He sailed on the high seas aboard cursed pirates ships and he fled from scoundrels along the Silk Road. He narrowly escaped the ancient ruins of Teotuhutacca and he dove to the bottom of the Indian Ocean to recover lost treasure. When the selection at the school library began to dry up, his mother had taken him to get a card at the Ashcroft Public Library, and he always had several books signed out.
Rinsing his bowl under the sink faucet before placing it in the dishwasher, Jesse looked at his watch: 7:30—right on time, he thought. He went back to the refrigerator and took out the paper bag holding his lunch and added it to his backpack before walking out the kitchen door, closing it behind him. As he stood on the outside steps—his hand still on the door handle—Jesse felt behind the railing until his fingers found the small nail sticking out of the backside, concealed by a holly bush. The brass house key was still hanging there, as he expected it would be. His father had it made at Mr. Moody’s hardware store just for him when he started walking to school and it had been one of Jesse’s proudest moments.
Giving the door handle one last quick turn to ensure it was locked, Jesse hopped down the short flight of steps before walking out to the sidewalk. Most of his friends rode their bicycles to school, especially the ones that lived further away than he did, but Jesse neither owned nor wanted a bike. He enjoyed the solitary walks to and from school on his own. He used the time to organize his thoughts for the day in the morning, or to map out his evenings after school. He replayed conversations with girls in class, winnowed down his Christmas list, and hummed his favorite songs all while making his daily treks.
Jesse’s parent’s house sat halfway down Price Street in one of the oldest sections of Ashcroft. Small, single family, two-story homes lined both sides of the street flanked by thick, towering hardwoods that cloaked the sidewalks in shade. The neighborhood—while far from being the wealthiest section of town—possessed a quiet, working-class dignity. The neighbors lawns were kept trimmed, usually by the homeowners themselves or a local boy who didn’t mind a little hard work in exchange for some spending money, but never by a professional lawn company—those were for Ashcroft’s more prosperous north and east ends where people had enough extra cash each month to pay for the luxury of manicured grass without the burden of manual labor or unsupervised children operating power equipment in their yards. The tidy houses with their wood siding were painted different combinations of muted pastels, giving the street a cheerful look even on cloudy days.
An aging cement sidewalk paralleled the street on both sides, jutting up in broken sections where the roots of the mature trees demanded passage. Jesse skipped over a large protruding piece as he left his driveway, heading for the end of the block. The patches of sun created by the gaps in the tree canopy felt good on his face and he almost wished he had worn a t-shirt instead, knowing the walk home would be much warmer. An occasional car passed by, splashing the puddles from last night’s rain, but otherwise the street was empty. He listened to the birds overhead in the tree-tops calling to one another as he walked along—trying to avoid stepping on the cracks like the game his friends and him played when they were little. Up ahead, situated on the corner of Price and Stein streets, was the Mount Zion Assembly of God church. The stately church, where he was himself baptized, was also his first and only turn on the nearly 2 mile route to the Robert S. Stein Middle School.
Approaching the corner, Jesse stopped under the outstretched limbs of a maple to wait before crossing. The traffic on Stein Street was heavy with people rushing to work and school—most of them distractedly finishing some last minute task as they drove. He turned and looked at the towering two-story church behind him. The white paint on the wooden siding was starting to peel up along the edges in spots and the black trim was faded to a charcoal gray where the sun bore down on it. He saw that the lawn was still well cared for—bright green and glistening wet from the morning’s sprinklers. The walkway leading up to the double front doors has been repaired several times over the years but was otherwise in good shape. The church had been there almost as long as Ashcroft itself, though Jesse could see that it had aged with more grace than the surrounding houses.
His gaze trailed upward to the small stained glass windows perched along the upper eave, noticing for the first time how the sunlight caught the colorful grooves, animating the pictures: a dove shimmering in flight clutching an olive branch in its claws; a glittering sheep resting happily on a lush green hillside; fiery hands folded in prayer. He had always known the little windows were there of course, he had actually seen them more times than he could count. While his family did not attend church regularly—his baptism seemingly the result of outside familial pressure—he had walked by the church every day this school year, not to mention all the times he saw them from the back seat of his mother’s car. Until today however, he hadn’t stopped to appreciate the stained glass and their simple beauty in the sunshine.
Craning his neck around the side of the church, Jesse saw that the windows continued at least as far down as the length of the church’s east wall. Facing Stein Street, the east side of the church was obscured from both the roadway and the sidewalk by a long hedgerow that had, over the years, grown to reach as tall as the second story windows containing the clergy’s administrative offices. Jesse noticed that between the outside wall and the hedge was just enough room for a person to walk comfortably. A well-worn footpath showed signs of regular use, likely by the groundskeeper, and Jesse walked the short distance over the grass from the sidewalk to the church corner, looking up for the vibrant glass pictures as he went. Cars continued to zip past, unseen for the wall of greenery, but his attention was transfixed skyward—here, a chalice of glowing gold, next, an angel backlit by yellow rays of light. The images—with their simple design—seemed to be lifted from the walls of the church and suspended midair, gleaming against the blue sky.
Jesse reached the far southern end of the church’s east wall not realizing how far he had gone—walking the hundred or so yards in a bemused trance. Having already traveled this far, he stepped around the back corner of the church, looking up along the high wall as he did for more stained glass. Now that he had seen how amazing the windows looked, he found himself compelled to see them all.
It was apparent to him that the back side of the church was not intended to be seen by the average worshipper. In contrast to the simple but still classy front of the church—awash in sunlight and open air—the back was a dreary facsimile; cloaked in near-constant shade that prevented the grass from growing beyond sparse patches, the white building was stained an ashy gray from the unchecked spread of mildew. Unlike the longer east and west facing walls, the front and rear of the building was narrow. Jesse couldn’t see to the far side however, as an enclosed rear entryway jutted out from the back of the church and blocked his view. Looking up, he saw only a scattering of regular windows belonging—he assumed—to additional offices and storage areas. For obvious reasons the builders had not bothered to install the colored glass back here where the church property served more for utility than reverence. With the rush of excitement for the stained windows abating, Jesse stood there and evaluated his surroundings.
The noise of the traffic was muffled even further back here and Jesse didn’t see anyone around—not even the groundskeeper, whom he expected to appear at any time. Tucked into the trees beyond the empty maintenance parking area was a dilapidated white shed, its door hanging crookedly on the hinges. Whatever garden equipment hadn’t been stored inside the shed appeared to be stacked against the outside wall and Jesse could see old flowerpots and loose hand tools left to rot under a layer of dead leaves. A slow breeze rustled the leaves on the trees overhead as he walked towards the shed nestled into the wood-line.
Stopping at the door of the little shed, he examined it closer. It didn’t appear that anyone had entered the shed for a long time and rusty brown trails snaked away from the old nail heads holding the siding on. Dead sticks and leaves blanketed the ground with skinny plant stalks poking up in irregular spots. The door—sagging to the left as the rotting wood loses its hold the upper hinge—had an old metal padlock on the hasp above the handle. It wasn’t like the modern locks he was familiar with, their shiny silver and brass parts inspiring trust and confidence in their strength. This one was aged with rust that turned it a dark brownish-red.
Stepping closer, Jesse lifted the lock away from the door. On the front were raised letters but he couldn’t make them out. Sticking his thumb into his mouth to wet it, he rubbed it against the letters in a circular motion. Still a murky brown, he could barely make out a few letters: – – G – Y, and just below that: ST – – L. The letters and the size of the words reminded him of something familiar. The answer was on the tip of his tongue but he had to think hard before it would materialize. Of course, it came to him, Rigby Steel.
Founded before the turn of the 19th century, Rigby Steel was one of the reasons Ashcroft could be found on the map. Just how much the town owed it’s lineage to the mill was still a debate regularly taken up by some of Ashcroft’s older residents, with second and third generation descendants still milking the now abandoned mill for any residual local notoriety. While certainly not the only big business of the bygone era to propel the town towards prosperity, it was surely the oddest.
Stories from the days when the mill was active were still told around supper and coffee tables alike. Occasionally, you could hear one told around a campfire or lantern if the story was the superstitious sort—of which there were many. Most, however, were cautionary tales that urged listeners to beware of abusing their power or to treat their employees well; Mr. Rigby being the arch-typical codger who was known for the harsh working conditions he created.
Jesse’s father would occasionally tell him about the mill’s founder, Adolphus Rigby, a stooped over and crotchety man with poor hearing—the result of a life spent amongst the thunderous forging of steel—that caused him to speak in a constant shout. No one knew whether Mr. Rigby was joking or serious when he talked, his outlandish remarks always being delivered with the same shiftless scowl. A known reclusive, the steel mogul seldom left the sprawling mill, choosing instead to orchestrate operations from within his office perched high atop the four-story brick building. His nervous employees were constantly fearful of his famously mercurial mood swings; paternally cajoling them to meet a deadline one minute and then berating them with a red face for a minor error the next, spit flying from his lips in angry explosions. In the final year of his life, the long-since-widowed Mr. Rigby had slept at the steel mill—refusing to leave for any reason—and a small bed had been carried up the many stairs to his spacious office.
Later, when the mill had closed during the years of Jesse’s father’s youth, it was Adolphus’ grandson, Quinn, unexpectedly at the helm. The patriarchal Mr. Rigby and his wife had only conceived two children—with one of them dying from the Spanish Flu before making it to her first birthday—and Quinn’s father, Walter, was considered to be as unlike his dad as any son could be. Forgiving where his father was spiteful, empathetic where he was cold, and optimistic where the old man was suspicious, everyone in Ashcroft expected a bright future for Rigby Steel.
After returning from college, Walter began to slowly assume operations as Adolphus’ health worsened. New ideas learned in college upstate about modern manufacturing processes were applied—and productivity soared. More workers were brought in and more buildings went up as the mill expanded. It was a period of growth and prosperity—not only for the mill, but for Ashcroft as well. Sadly, it would be a brief period before the town was plunged into a long and draining recession.
One day, while he was out inspecting the mill, a rusty cable-hook pulled free from its mooring in the aging brick wall, the hasp popping out in a puff of red dust before falling to the floor far below. The bulky metal hook was used to lift the heavy pallets containing the steel parts after they were forged. It had been secured high against the wall where it would not interfere with the workers and vehicles down on the floor below. His back to the danger, Walter hadn’t seen the massive hook the size of a car tire as it swung down—gathering speed on its silent path towards him. The doctors later said that nearly every bone in his torso sustained damage, with most of them shattering under the impact. Shards of razor sharp bone had severed his spine and—mercifully—his death had been instant. The decline of the mill that followed however was a slow and melancholy era that never really ended entirely.
Letting the lock settle back against the aging door, Jesse looked at his watch and his eyes widened in shock; it was 8:15. He was late. No, he was beyond late. If he walked through the doors to the school right now he’d still be late—and he had almost two miles to walk. Time had gotten away from him while he was studying the stained glass windows and there was no getting it back again. As he stood there contemplating potential excuses to tell his teacher and parents, a foreign but exciting idea came over him, and he set any fear of reprisal aside for a moment. Or…, he thought, I could go over to Rigby Steel and explore around. Trying the idea on for a second, he continued, I’m already late, what’s a little later? Looking again at the weathered lock on the door, Jesse imagined exploring the abandoned steel mill. As far as he knew no one had been back there in many years.
Considered an unnecessary hazard by many Ashcroft residents, most preferred to forget that it still stood at the end of the gravel drive—obscured now by a mature stand of woods. Jesse had occasionally heard stories of some older kid or another having braved the danger and snuck back, but the speaker was always once or twice removed—never the actual boy alleging to have gone. Those stories always ended with the unknown kid narrowly escaping some unseen malevolent presence that inhabited the site; which type of haunting depended on the personal taste of whoever was telling the tale.
Jesse didn’t believe the parts about the ghosts—that was childish stuff—but he loved hearing the kids describe the old buildings their “friends” had supposedly been able to explore. He pictured massive steel forging machines from antiquity, frozen in disuse but poised to thunder back to life on command as though the workers had simply left at the end of their shift expecting to return the next day. He suddenly wanted more than anything to see the old Rigby Steel Mill and its old brick buildings. The growing idea of going on an actual adventure himself was beginning to take root.
He had never purposely ditched school before—he had never even been late. On the rare occasion that he was too sick to attend there were never any suspicions raised about his sincerity. The mill wasn’t far away from where he was now, he knew. He had seen glimpses of the sprawling complex behind the trees and sumac bushes from time to time as he rode by in the car, but he had never gone up Rigby Lane to the closed metal gates—now secured with a rusty chain looped around its bars. If he left now, he could go explore some of the mill and still be at school by lunch period. He could tell Ms. Gertson and his parents that his stomach had begun to hurt this morning and that he was afraid to stray too far from the safety of the bathroom. He would still be there for half of the day—so it wasn’t even a full-fledged skip, he thought.
He imagined his mother’s face if he happened to get caught. Perhaps someone would drive by and see him on the road so late in the morning when he should be in school and heading in the wrong direction. His father would be furious when he found out. He didn’t spank him often—Jesse rarely warranted it—but it was not unheard of and something like this would guarantee at least a few swats. And that likely only be the beginning. There would be no more tranquil mornings. The parade of babysitters would return without delay. The brass key would be removed from its little nail behind the railing, Jesse no longer being worthy of it.
Still, he pictured the heroes in his favorite books: exploring ancient tombs; discovering unknown places; recovering secret knowledge once lost to the ages. Ashcroft was often an insufferably boring town to him—not like the places in his books. Most people simply conformed to whatever behavior or tastes were currently in style and went about their lives. It was rare to see anyone express too much individuality, and those that did were considered to be bad apples of one sort or another.
It was still some time before Jesse realized that he was no longer considering whether or not to go. Adjusting the shoulder straps tighter on his bag, he turned and headed back for the street corner—and the Rigby Steel Mill.
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If you enjoy my stories, please consider buying me a coffee so that I can sit around writing more for years to come. I'm a man of simple tastes, but I do enjoy a cup while I write. Thank you!
Author’s Note: I have no real intentions of posting my book in its entirety on here—that would be absurd for a number of reasons. Still, I do plan on continuing to post excerpts over time for the purpose of feedback. Like anyone who has ever told a story, I hope you enjoyed what you’ve read so far. It’s still in rough shape and each review brings about one minor tweak or another—but they’re getting further and fewer in between so I wouldn’t expect any major shift to the plot. If you did enjoy it, then I would shamelessly ask you to hit the like button and maybe even nonchalantly spread the word about the blog, (but don’t make it look obvious). I look forward to getting this story out there.