TOO Historical Fiction 87 The Grannywoman of Devil’s Backbone

By Teel James Glenn
Read by Shawn Robertson

“Tain’t never cottoned to outsiders no less Yankees tellin’ me what to do, sonny,” the wizened woman called Granny Liz said. “And I sure as hell ain’t gonna let none traipse about up them hills.” She waved a thin hand at a wooded section of the countryside. “Specially not were Cloud family bones is buried.”

The Arkansas State Trooper who stood before her sighed. “I know, Liz,” He said. “Miss Cloud,” the silver haired woman corrected. She was dressed in layers of blue and red gingham with a grey shawl tossed over her narrow shoulders but at barely five feet tall she still looked painfully small next to the burly officer.

“Miss Cloud,” he said. “They are not going to hurt the land and they have a perfect legal right with documents from the state government to harvest turpentine.”

“Ain’t no government that can give no permission to desecrate graves-”

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TOO Historical Fiction 86 Meg Harper

By Gretchen Tessmer
Read by Jane Osborn

Caleb and I played jacks on the sun-drenched planks of Deck A for more than three hours this morning. We’ve changed the rules and now require a length of string, three nails and a bit of white chalk to play. Caleb, in his customary discontent, insisted that we needed matches to give the game some spark. But I informed him that a child of seven has no business experimenting with fire.

The youngest of the three Jewish brothers played with us for a short while. Unfortunately, he speaks no English and neither Caleb nor I speak Yiddish. The language barrier proved inconvenient. He went back to his brothers after only two rounds and they spent the rest of the afternoon just staring out over the harbor.

Sitting and staring have become a regular activity among the passengers of our ill-fated Meridian, though not for me. I’ve found that my brother’s constitution is one of constant motion and infuriating energy. Frankly, if he were to sit still for any amount of time I would doubt the quality of my senses. As it is, considering our long separation, I’m pleasantly surprised by my ability to entertain a brother not even half my age.

It’s been six days since steerage was quarantined. I think. I did not take the time to write it down. They moved us all so quickly and everyone was in such a panic. Everything has settled now. The remaining steerage passengers, including my brother and myself, mix here and there on the decks of what were formerly first and second class. But honestly, I don’t think anyone is paying much attention to distinctions of class anymore. Just yesterday, a woman in pearls and a Parisian silk dress asked me, an orphan girl from Yorkshire, if I needed anything. I feel as if I’ve stepped into a Dickens novel.

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TOO Historical Fiction 85 The Book Box

Artwork by Susan McIntyreBy Roberta Branca
Read by Shawn Robertson
Cover Art Copyright © 2010, Susan McIntyre

Darts of arctic air puncture my skin through layers of underclothes, dress, coat, and wool blanket. Ari huddles against my bosom, his small arms wrapped tightly around my waist. Like my fellow passengers, I try to limit my movements so as not to rock the boat further. The waves around us all seem to defeat our purpose.

Children in ours and other boats cry, “Where is papa? Where is papa?” At age two and six months, Ari rarely strings more than two words together. He cries pitifully, kitten-like.

Wrenching metallic bursts of noise cover the distance between lifeboat and ship; the mournful sound defies human language. Ari screams. Far ahead, the bow disappears beneath the surface. The stern stands on end. My body trembles. I clutch Ari, press his head into my shoulder and bury my face in his warm body.

The stern founders slowly as if it were being sucked down into quicksand and not water. Through the fog a geyser of water, salt spray and dense mist rises from the roiling sea at the spot where the bow disappeared. I cannot peel my eyes from this spot. Was my beloved John dragged beneath the waves in the stern of the ship? Or was he stricken instantly when hitting the icy water? Or trapped within the towering, upright bow?

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TOO Historical Fiction 84 The Cat that got the Major’s Goat

By J.R. Lindermuth
Read by Shawn Robertson

Period: Post Korean War
Setting: DMZ

The cat stopped in the middle of the road and turned, eyes flashing red in the light of the jeep’s headlamps.

The dust kicked up when Kim slammed on the brakes descended like a luminous halo around the animal, a specter transfixed in the white glare, so close they could hear it breathing. It stood but a moment, then it was gone.

Major Don Dorsey stood up, craning his long neck and peering into the dark woods after the tiger disappeared. “Good God, Fenwick,” he said, “Did you ever see the like of that? And, me with only a shotgun!”

Fenwick, the other American, squirmed nervously in his seat, tapped the Korean driver on the shoulder and said, “Come on, Kim, get this machine moving before he has us going after that beast.”

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TOO Historical Fiction 83 Look Away

Setting: American Civil War
By Steven Thomas Howell
Read by Shawn Robertson

Neck deep in the grave, Sam Watkins paused at the clatter of an approaching supply wagon. Covered with sweat and caked with red Tennessee soil, he had dug without a break for most of the late August morning. He leaned the spade in a corner of the rectangular hole and scratched his dark beard, listening to the sounds of the world above. He wanted a chew from his knapsack, but decided he couldn’t afford the moisture it took to spit.

The sprawling oak in whose shade Sam worked grew on a small hummock, the only tree in the middle of a wide field. Over the edge of the grave, Sam could see a whitewashed farmhouse gleaming in the sun a quarter mile away beside a field of tall corn. If civilians were about, they had wisely made themselves and their livestock scarce.

The sergeant leaning against the oak’s massive trunk drained his canteen as a two-horse supply rig appeared around the bend, a good musket shot up the tree- lined road to Shelbyville. No single horses, so no officers. Sam left his straw hat and gray coat hanging from the low branch overhead. He wiped sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his filthy gingham shirt, nodded toward the sergeant, and looked up the road.

Silhouetted against the plume of brown dust trailing their wagon, two straight- spined men bounced toward the lone oak on the hill. A third man rode in the back, bobbing and swaying on the rough road. That would be the dead man.

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TOO Historical Fiction 82 Silence in Florence

by Ian Creasey Link to Starship Sofa
read by Shawn Robertson

Period: Florence, early 1600s.

The chamberpots held only dust. Maria picked one up, and sniffed a faint tang of rose-water from the last time she had cleaned it — three days ago, before the visitors arrived. Did the foreigners think themselves too good to piss in a pot? How could they? Under their fancy robes, everyone had the same bodily functions. Maria had emptied the pots of princes and cardinals, ambassadors and artists; the more wine they drank, the smellier their urine became. But now — none?

Maria shrugged. If the pots were empty, she’d complete her rounds quicker. She needed to finish all these apartments while the occupants toasted the Feast of St John the Baptist downstairs. To remove the dust, she gave the chamberpots a quick wipe with a jasmine-scented rag. Then she left the visitors’ apartment.

On her way to the next stateroom, she met her daughter scurrying down the corridor. “What is it?” she asked, no longer hoping for an answer in words. At eleven years old, her daughter had still never spoken. Maria hoped the others hadn’t been teasing her again. Sometimes they would send Cristina with messages too complicated to be delivered by gestures.

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TOO Historical Fiction 81 Anezka

By Bruce Durham
Read by Shawn Robertson

Anezka stamped the floor and crossed her arms in displeasure. “This won’t do. This just won’t do.” Servants paused in their work, eyes focused on the elderly slave glaring from beneath thick, gray eyebrows. She flicked a wrist. “Move the chairs near the window, but stay out of the sunlight. The King and his guest must be refreshed by the breeze, not suffer undue discomfort. And the table, shade it, the fruit must remain cool. King Prusias likes his fruit cool. Better yet, you there, take that gauze and hang it across the window. Now, those braziers; move those two near the columns. There, and there. And a carpet, we must have a carpet between the chairs. Quick now.” She clapped her arthritic hands, the skin of her thin arms quivering with the sharp motion.

Chair legs scraped the stone floor. A curtain was draped over the window, its sheer weave softening the late-morning sunlight. A small stone table was placed between the chairs and the braziers repositioned. Two slaves appeared from a side entrance, manhandling a brightly woven rug.

Anezka watched; nodding judiciously as the room was arranged to her liking. She turned when one half of the large cedar double-doors swung open. A young male slave entered and rushed up.

“Mother, the King arrives with his guest.”

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