One Night in the Hill Country, a Thriller -
3000 Word Sample.
30,000 word thriller novella.
Humorous, touching, suspenseful.
Available via subscription, direct purchase, or library after release.
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One Night in the Hill Country, a Thriller :
3000 Word Sample
Categories : Pre-Orders – Story Samples plus Links
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Below is approximately the first 3000 words in my 30,000 word novella, “One Night in the Hill Country.”
Humorous, touching, suspenseful. Written in short chapters, with changing point-of-views.
Mature material. A woman is trapped, with four children, in the Texas Hill Country.
One Night in the Hill Country – Approx 10% Story Sample
Parked in the shadows of a line of one and two story western style wood buildings, Tara spied the young girl, barely a teen, if that, start and stop to cross the small border town’s roughly paved street.
Hesitant. Fearful. Hearing the protestors down the street like a funeral procession.
Yet, hiding it well, thought Tara. Remembering to flick her hair, gaze upward, as if unfazed, walking about. Definitely a girl with her bearings about her. Definitely someone the right age her brother would want. Rolf will be proud of me, Tara smiled.
Down the flat street, dusty as a barren riverbed, just a few blocks down, the immigration rally picked up momentum. In a spurt, bullhorns chanting, it began heading their way.
Tara stepped out and shoved the old pickup truck’s door closed. Just loud enough to catch the young girl’s attention, yet not alarm her.
Sharp dark eyes, wary, yet unafraid, peered back at Tara. The little girl looked like a Mexican version of a young Shirley Temple. Pixie, full head of curls softening the wide bright eyes. Stretching slightly, Tara mimicked the young girl’s practiced motion, also glancing upward, feeling the hot blue sky, unwavering as ice, above them. Peripherally, she saw this set the young girl somewhat at ease. Like a bluster, settling into a breeze.
The child grinned, then hid it, hearing the marchers, a slow motion flood of bodies, now half the distance from where they stood – the street, otherwise, nearly deserted.
Tara grabbed the kitten through the truck’s open window, its eyes wide below the striking white on black starburst on its forehead. Walked directly to the child. Looked back to the crowd approaching the next block, the chorus of protest becoming strident voices, abrupt shouts – Tara giving the young girl the hint she was afraid also – and thrust the wiggling kitten into the small girl’s hands, the protestors crossing the intersection into their block.
“Smile,” Tara smiled to the little girl.
“Wave if anyone looks at us.”
Both girls waved. Big sister, little sister, it must have seemed, to the passersby intent in shouting their meaning. Like thunderclaps rumbling away, the marchers passed. The dust settled back where it’d always been. The young girl choked a sob, and flicked a tear, as if clearing an errant strand of hair from her vision.
Silently, she offered the kitten back to Tara.
Tara began walking. “Keep smiling. Talk to me, pretend I am your sister.”
The child reached for and grasped Tara’s hand, tugging it.
“Your kitty -”
“You like him?” asked Tara.
“Oh, si -”
“It’s yours. If you take care of him.”
The girl nodded.
Tara felt relief. Yes, her brother will be proud of her. Another illegal for them.
Tara gazed down at the girl – staring at Tara’s childhood whelp on her arm. Dry and gnarled as the land around them.
“No matter how hard. Or, how much..it hurts…” Tara said, eyeing the wiggly kitten.
But Tara already knew the girl’s answer. It was in her gait.
Child-like, she’d pressed the kitten to her chest.
“Si. Con todo mi corazon.”
One Week Earlier
Zilker, off to a frequently visited garage sale site near his home in Austin, peered into the empty cardboard box in disbelief. All the kittens were gone. Especially the tiny black and white one with the star on its head. He’d already named it, he moaned. Starhead!
Quickly he glanced at all four sides of the thick but worn box. There it was. This was the box. Stamped on the backside of the oblong homemade kitten bed, stamped with red white and blue markers – “Made in America.” He choked back a sob.
Nine years old, having spent two whole days convincing his mom he could have a kitty, just like two of his older cousins, Simone and Tabitha, had now left him with nothing. Worse than nothing. The girls had three, sometimes five, kitties at their house!
Starhead. He and his year older brother Buzz had already started making their own box bed for it. Decorated it. Big yellow starburst, with red flame tips. Right next to a giant smiley face.
“Are you sure he’s gone?” Zilker asked the man again.
A near neighbor, the older man knew both Zilker and Buzz, and had been holding the kitten for them. But the cats had disappeared the night before. He’d left them out late, the “Free” sign still on the box and, well….
Zilker moved to slink away, drained like a party balloon before anyone had even seen it.
“Hey,” the neighbor called out, morning coffee in hand, “want me to get you another?”
“No, that’s ok. I know a police lady. Well, she was. Anyway, she can – ”
“She’s a friend. She’ll help me look for it.”
The old man shook his head in sympathy, and sipped his coffee. Then nodded and smiled.
“Ok, then. Hope you find him.”
Tara felt the air thin as she drove.
How could such a dry barren place along the border be so humid, she wondered.
She knew, but could not help but be amazed, feeling the brisk air through her open window. The landscape yellowing in the morning light, hardening each minute of each mile into the glare of another day. Scrubby. Like her brother’s beard after only a few days. She had quit telling him how bad he looked, he got so angry.
A fresh wind whipped her hair against her face and the small girl stirred, asleep again.
Peppered with salt and sand, the winds from the Gulf of Mexico brought her the waves’ sweat, but not its rain. Unless it flooded, she laughed, waking the child.
Tara could see her eyes open to slits, registering the rumble of the old truck, the shock of the morning air. The girl’s eyes paused, remembering. She saw her reach out quickly, gathering the kitten. Scooping it onto a makeshift towel-bed. The young girl’s eyes grew distant, hurt as she sniffed the young fur. She set him down on the truck’s rough bench seat.
“You name him?” Tara asked.
Surprised, to be given this power, the young girl pulled the kitten back to her.
Twisting, tiny-meowing, the fist size creature let its legs drape off the young girl’s hand, stretching like a starfish.
“Si. Luz del Sol.”
“That’s a long name.”
The two girls grinned.
Tara liked this girl. She could harden her. Yet keep her soft. Inside. Hidden. Safe. Like herself, from her brother.
Sam balanced on one leg.
Re-grounded with both feet.
I’m a lumberjack to my own tree pose, she half giggled.
The full length mirror on the wall revealed her slim body back to her.
Definitely not heavy, she judged. But not fit, toned enough, she decided.
She pulled at her over-size heavy white t-shirt. Austin, everyone here told her, was dry. Drier than Houston, they added, if she squnched her face, disbelief in her eyes. But Vermont – where her brother Matt had returned for a week, finishing their move to Texas – that was dry.
Slowly, then in a swoosh, she slipped the t-shirt off, catching her angles and curves in the mirror. Felt the sticky soft sweat on her skin. Turned left, then right, first holding her hips to the front, yoga style, then slipping, dipping her pelvis as she twisted ever so slightly.
I look like a pieced together mannequin, she mused, working her bottom lip, amused at her own thought. She pulled at a roll beneath her ribs. Took a deep slow steadying breath, raising her arms as she filled her lungs, bottom to top, and lifted back into tree pose.
Caught a glint of the flyer taped to her mirror : Hill Country Wine Festival!
Don’t think! Don’t plan! Breathe…stretch…slowly….
I can go for the afternoon, she thought -
Swayed, almost fell…
If those kids’ grandfather can do this -
Sam lifted. Held…
Tara’s eyes widened as she inhaled, catching the scent of mowed medians between the double lanes of state highway. Low, wide, dust-covered tractors clawed the ditch-like, shallow dip separating north and southbound lanes. Dust from the desert air clung and dissolved in the new moisture. Tara took another breath. Soon they would be home.
In the distances, the horizon formed a bowl around them. Arid bleached earth, packed hard as stucco, spotted with shrubs dotted the ground, like architect lines, vanishing nowhere. Outcroppings, tables of solitary plateaus, shimmered in the distance. Faded watercolors created patiently by nature.
Like sound to a silent movie, small trees, then ridges the length of the horizon, woke the landscape and pointed the two girls north.
Wine country, the Texas Hill Country, wasn’t far now.
It was a lot of work, Tara thought, finding children like this one. Anxious to disappear into a new world, familiar with loss, with pain, and easy to give purpose to. And not get caught.
Yes, this young girl, thought Tara, was a lot like herself.
One, of only a very few, Tara noted.
Just as her brother had said.
The little girl, Tara noted, looked nervously out her window, the landscape morphing into the fairyland she had dreamed about and had been told of back home, south of the border.
It was time, Tara decided, to make better friends with her.
“So you gonna tell me your name?”
Then the girl relented.
“Janie is a good name, Lupita. You did well.”
The girl nodded absently, her eyes seeing things far away.
“You have a friend named Janie?”
Lupita shook her head no. Said, “No. It was a book. For children.”
She nodded yes. “Each girl who leaves, leaves the book – for another….”
“So you liked Janie.”
Lupita petted her kitten.
“It is bet-ter,” she said, “than Spot.”
“We found it! We found it!”
Buzz and Zilker burst upon their mom reading by the light of her bedroom window like lightening – bright, sudden, and unexpected.
Katarina, the boys’ mother, patiently put her iPad down. The flurry of her boys’ entrance told her they were water over a cliff. Not stopping. Not til they reached her anyway.
“See?” Zilker thrust a fresh laser color print-out of a black and white kitten.
“Starhead!” hollered Buzz.
Katarina made a mental note: cut Buzz’s sugar back again.
“You sure?” she asked her youngest son.
Zilker nodded. “Yep. See?”
Buzz finger-outlined the star on the small kitten’s forehead.
Katarina held the print in her hand. Made another mental note: change out photo paper in printer for general purpose paper.
“Uh,” she began, pressing her lips so as not to blurt her first thought –
“Uh,” she began again. “The caption says, Turku Finland.”
The boys bent over the edge of the bed, peered closely at the image and its caption, looked at each other, and climbed into bed, each boy pressing lightly, but firmly, to one side of their mother. Their silence, broken only by faint whimpers, hurt Katarina’s ears.
She gasped a breath, saying, “It’s ok, boys. Keep looking.”
And without a sound, the boys were gone.
Soon their footsteps faded.
Their house, in an older neighborhood of Austin, was not huge, or even what she considered big. Yet, her children had walked but a few rooms away, and seemed to have disappeared.
She shook her worries away and raised her iPad to read again. A mystery set in Spain. And set her tablet down on her lap again.
Debating with herself only long enough to hear the whirr of the photo printer working, and the boys chatting – “No, not that one, print this.” — “Already did!” – “Didn’t take, do it again!” – she dialed Sam from her tablet.
Like an auto-command, Lupita heard Tara tell her to put her smile on.
She did. Felt the ends of her lips curl up. Her eyes crinkle.
Tara explained it was Vineyard Festival Weekend. The roads were filling with gawking tourists. They looked as if expecting to find something new, something different. Pointed at the protestors with bright signs flashing light from the sun.
No Camps Here!
Lupita smiled, but her eyes drooped with memories she didn’t want.
Tara tugged at the girl’s shirt, keeping her hand low.
“There’s Sheriff Sullivan -”
Glanced sideways, where Tara had pointed with her eyes.
Tall man, suit straight as boards, a star on his chest.
“A good man,” Tara said. “Smile.”
Lupita smiled broader.
“Stay clear of him,” Tara said. But if you get in trouble – ”
Tara shot Lupita a look.
“Real trouble – ”
“Go to him.”
“But, he is, po-lice.”
“I know. But trust me.”
Lupita nodded back.
They stayed silent as Tara made two turns and exited the small town, cresting a small hill, and ambled the old truck down a rough-topped road. If drivers were careful, two cars could pass.
The land rolled in tight mounds, obscuring all but the next mound when they dipped. Revealing a wide horizon each rise.
Rising and falling and rising again, Lupita couldn’t tell where she had been or where they were going. But she had learned, from her father before she had left, look to the stars, look to the sun. And she felt their movement. Angling. Away from the town.
From the town, with families smiling inside cars as big as her old house, and weaving round lines of signs and shouting, she knew they were driving east-northeast with the arc of the sun.
Around a bend, after a left, wired fences strung between sticks, twisted with lines like her grandmother’s face, appeared. Another left, two lefts she told herself, and a barn appeared. Then a house and small cabins.
The light brightened in Tara’s eyes. She sat up, straightened, waved out the window at a man by the barn.
Lupita saw the man’s face. A young man, a grown man. He smiled also. But only his lips. His eyes, Lupita saw, were focused on her.
Sam had just found a sweet spot in child’s pose, one that stretched a tiny tight back muscle, releasing ice cream smooth scoops of pleasure, when she got the call. Her Kindle, propped up by the mirror under the wine flyer, beeped an alert.
Rolling on her back, she sighed a lip puckered breath, and opened her eyes.
Tapping her phone, which was closer, she voiced it to messages.
“Sam, this is Katarina. So sorry to bother you. The boys and your brother Matt have been, well, communicating – they didn’t tell me til now! Anyway. They think they found that lost kitten, the one with the star on its head. Your brother thinks it’s in the Hill Country. Call me. Please.”
Sam dressed. She could already tell this would entail a visit.
She called Katarina and told her she was on her way.
Calling her brother Matt in Vermont as she drove, Sam found out he had helped the boys narrow their search from everywhere in the world, to Texas. Then found, via the embedded IP addresses, three kittens with recent images online, one near Fredericksburg west of Austin. By the time Sam reached Katarina’s house, she had a plan.
The boys already liked and trusted her. Ever since she had helped them recover Zilker’s camera after it was robbed near Sixth Street. At the time, she had just gotten a job with Austin’s police department, as a consultant with children’s trauma. That was before the six young cousins she had helped after the robbery, which included brothers Zilker and Buzz, convinced her to buy a Texas Lottery ticket. And won. Not too big. But big enough to say, “I’m gonna take some time off, a year or two, and see what happens.”
Her trip to the Hill Country Wine Festival was her first planned trip in her new unplanned life. She could take the boys with her. Pretend to look around for the lost kitty, get some ice cream, then head back.
While Katarina considered the six cousins, including her two rambunctious boys, Sam’s “adopted buddies,” she was not sure taking them with her that afternoon was “necessary.”
“They have soccer tomorrow morning,” Katarina explored, wondering if she might have a quiet afternoon to herself.
“Well, I -”
“And of course, you know I trust you totally with the boys, but…”
“No, I understand, but yes, it’s no problem.”
Katarina looked at the boys, thinking.
“Only real problem,” she began, “they were supposed to go my brother’s, and some place or other with their cousins.”
“Simone and Tabitha?”
“Such sweet girls,” Sam grinned at the boys.
The prospect of going out to the hill country for the day had the two boys wide-eyed and leaning slightly forward. Even with the chance their two tween cousins would also be along.
“Yes,” Katarina said again.
“Actually,” Sam said, sensing the deal was done, “they’d be a great help, with the boys.”
Buzz and Zilker made faces, but kept quiet.
Katarina tried one more time. “Really, Sam. You should go out there and,” she smiled, “who knows, maybe,” she whispered, one hand cupping her mouth, “meet someone.”
Sam merely shook her head. Not something she would plan.
“Ok,” Katarina teased, “your funeral.”
Traffic remained dense most of the way, city changing to stretches of dry rolling scrub land. Close to noon, the two boys and two tween girls, each chatting with Sam, arrived at a small gift shop in a tiny Central Texas town, and waited patiently to park.
End of Excerpt
One Night in the Hill Country
I hope you have enjoyed this sneak preview, and will pre-order a copy at Amazon, iTunes, or Barnes & Noble.
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Thank you so much, sincerely,
Felipe Adan Lerma
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namaste´- con dios – god be with you
Sheila & Adan
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