The Ranch – Chapter One Excerpt
I will be sharing excerpts from The Contessa Chronicles chapter one, The Ranch. I decided to share several pages. Sit back, imagine, and enjoy your time at the Ranch.
Chapter One, The Ranch from Contessa Chronicles by Laurie Beth Jones.
I can’t say exactly when I was born, because I can’t remember ever not being. It seems I was always here at this place we call The Ranch. Sometimes it seems I can go forever without writing much, but some unusual things have been happening here, so I decided to write them down.
Skinner has a lot to do with it, but I will get to him later.
Just so you get a sense of things, let me describe the Ranch and my family to you. The Ranch has every sort of terrain you can imagine and stretches further than the eye can see. It has pink cliffs rising above lush green meadows, and beyond that are rolling hills with little green bushes spotting them. The further north you go you see ever deepening forests, and south is what the Ranch Hands call the Badlands, though I never go there. I prefer to stay around here, where there is beauty everywhere.
Our house is a white, two-story home with a pitched roof and a wide covered front porch. There is a large barn about a hundred yards away with corrals all around it. Farther off, there is a tool shed, and beyond that is the library and art studio, where my mother and father spend most of their time.
My father, “Al,” is big and tall and has a voice that rolls over you like thunder. His skin is the color of the earth, and his hands are huge. Sometimes I feel like he could hold the whole world in them, and I tell him so.
Meg, my mother, has eyes that are bright with laughter, and her mind is full of very big thoughts. She is always thinking of something new for us all to do.
When Mom and Dad are together, sometimes there is a humming sound. They look at one another and laugh and then disappear for hours.
My brother Jess claims he is taller than me. We measured one day out at the barn. I stood on tippy toes and even wore my boots that day. Jess got the measuring stick from the tool shed and marked it off and said, “Keep growing, Tess, and someday you’ll catch me.” “How about now!” I yelled, and grabbed for his shirt. Jess laughs and then we are off, racing down the road. We like to run a lot. Mom told me one time she wanted us to grow up in a place where there was lots of room to run, and nothing but wide blue open skies, so we could lay on our backs and dream.
The house where we live is a very large structure with hard- wood floor in some places, polished stone in others. There are floor to ceiling windows everywhere. “Let there be Light!” is one of my father’s favorite phrases.
The living room has a huge fireplace made of stacked stone, with leather sofas and chairs surrounding a handmade center table. It was one of Dad and Jess’s first carpentry projects together and it is massive and strong.
My bedroom looks down over a private garden, with honeysuckle vines climbing over a wall, spreading their sweet scent around. I have rosebushes of sunset colors blooming all around. As I write this, sitting in the garden, little white fluffs of cottonwood seeds are floating in the air, dancing their way down to the ground.
Yesterday as I sat and did my morning journaling, a hummingbird flew right up to my face and hovered just a moment, as if to say “I see you!” and then zoomed away.
(My mother, Meg, probably set that up.) She loves to leave little love notes under my pillow, or arrange for something special to happen during the day to let me know she is thinking of me.
Mom comes in every night and combs and brushes my hair. I lean my head back and close my eyes and feel as if I am floating. Sometimes she will sing. “Although alone, you can do all. Yourself unchanging, you make all things new.” The words come in bits and pieces, as she just hums and brushes my hair, with me counting out loud…fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight. I love these quiet times with her. I almost always fall asleep before she gets to one hundred.
Chapter Four (Excerpt)
One of our favorite things to do is to race down to Crystal Pier. I am usually faster, but this time, Jess beat me. He ran down the edge of the pier and yelled, “Tessa, watch this!” He gathered himself into a ball and made a huge splash into the lake.
“Jess,” I yelled, “Don’t you ever think about giving the fish a little warning that you’re coming?” “Nah, they like me!” he assured me. “They even come when I call them.“ “They do not,” I said. “Yes, they do. Come closer, let me show you.” I was looking down and just then he splashed me. “Come on, Tess, the water is warm. Jump in!”
“No thank you,” I said. “I am going where things are a little more quiet.”
“Tess, if you don’t talk to me, I’m going to make even the rocks and trees call out!” he yelled. Jess was always saying stuff like that. Sure enough, the crickets would start chirping, and a chorus of sound would arise.
I tended toward the quieter, less showy relationship with creation. Like the fish. I didn’t have to catch them or put coins in their mouth or have the wind and water obey me, like he did. (Mom had told me that Jess needed to be able to do these things, as some day he would need them. She told me that I had special gifts too, which would become useful to me in time.)
When it came to the elements, and creatures, I wanted to observe them, and be one with them, and watch how they moved.
I dropped to the edge of the grass at the lake and got very quiet. I moved over where I could see my reflection. The water was so still. But I looked beyond my reflection, as Mom had taught me to do. I saw minnows darting to and fro. I saw waving plants at the very bottom, doing their perpetual swaying dance. I was counting the minnows when suddenly I saw a vision of two very angry faces.
One had raised a rock and was about to smash in the head of the one underneath him. I pulled my head back in shock. Then, suddenly, a rock thrown in the water caused the ripple to wash the vision away. I sat back wondering what I had seen. I wanted to tell Jess about it later.
Just then Chattanango gave us the signal it was time to go back home. As it turns out, I forgot to tell Jess what I had seen. Maybe I should have mentioned it sooner. Maybe things would have turned out differently.
Skinner and Dad used to cook together not so long ago. Skinner designed an oven that got so hot it would incinerate anything it touched. Mom walked in, took one look at it, and said, “That thing is going to hurt somebody.”
After that, Dad had Chattanango and some of the other Ranch Hands take it way out back. Skinner asked him if he could have it and Dad said, “Yes, as long as you put it to good use.”
Skinner got an anvil and started making chains from the flames, one link after another. He was obsessed with them. Dad and I walked out to check on him one day and Dad asked, “Skinner, why are you making those? We don’t need any chains here. We never use them.” Skinner kept pounding away, saying, “Just passing the time, Boss, just passing the time.”
One of the happiest days of my life was when Dad and Mom gave me a very special gift. I remember it like it was yesterday. A big cloud rolled in, full of flashing light and thunder, and hovered just outside my room. Dad bellowed, “Tess, come out here. There’s something your mother and I want to give you.” I put my book down and ran outside, shielding my eyes from the lightning that was just before me. Suddenly out of the cloud emerged the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.
Her neck was arched and her mane flowed down like a wave as she pranced right up to me. She lowered her perfectly formed head for me to pet her, her nostrils flaring and showing a hint of red. I pulled her head close into my chest, letting my hands glide up under the arch of her mane. She smelled like the earth after it has rained. She smelled like new mown hay out in the field. I looked over at Dad and Mom. “She’s all yours,” they said with a smile. “Now you are really free to roam.”
“I will name her Espiritu,” I cried. “She is like the Wind!” I leaped onto her back, leaned forward, and we were off at the speed of light.
Her hooves pounded the earth in time with the racing beats of my heart. I leaned as far down on her neck as I could and kept saying, “On girl, on!” I guided her easily with a slight shifting of my weight. It was as if we were one being. She flew over fallen trees and past fences that hadn’t been mended.
Finally we slowed to a walk. Espiritu continued to snort and prance, lifting her hooves up high, eager to eat up the ground again. We were now out among the giant cactus…their long arms reaching out to the sky in sometimes poetic, sometimes comical ways. It was so cold now you could see puffs of breath as we both exhaled. Snow had fallen on the mountains all around us.
The only sound was her breathing, and mine. It made me to want to frame this moment forever. I felt like together we could go anywhere, leap anything. With her as my companion, I truly could be quicker than any motion.
Suddenly, I noticed a white tip of a tail. Thinking it might be a deer, we drew closer and noticed a little black dog. Its tongue was hanging out, and it seemed tired. He was so glad to see us he barked and barked. I got off Espiritu as she lowered her nose to inhale his scent. He sat down and raised his paw. “Where did you come from, little guy?” I asked. He just grinned and sat there. I picked him up and laid him over the withers, balancing him just so in front of me. With that the three of us headed back to the Ranch.
When I came riding in with the little dog in my lap Mom rushed out to meet us. “Oh, you poor thing,” she said. “You must be very hungry!” She took the dog into her arms and headed to the kitchen. “I’m over here, Mom!” I said. “I know, Honey. Welcome back,” I heard her echo as she disappeared inside. I could hear her talking to him softly saying, “What were you doing wandering out in the wilderness like that?”
Jess was not in a good mood when I saw him. He was sitting on the porch swing, rocking back and forth. In fact, he looked mad. “What’s the matter with you?” I asked, walking up to sit beside him.
“I followed you out into the desert, Contessa. I thought maybe you would bring me home. Do you have any idea how long you were gone?” he asked.
“No, I don’t. Maybe a couple of hours?”
“Try forty days! You just left me there and I was all alone and then guess who showed up!” He paused and took a breath. “None other than Skinner,” he said.
“He did?” I gasped. “How did he get back in here?” “It doesn’t matter. He’s gone now.”
“What did he say? What did he want?”
“He offered to give me things if I would trade places with him.”
“What kinds of things?” I asked, sitting down beside him.
“Not anything that attracted me, that’s for sure. I told him to get lost—three times, and finally he did.”
“Why do you look so sad then?” I asked.
“Because I have a feeling he will be back.”
What Jess did not tell his sister was what he had really said to him. He had said, “Skinner, you can do anything to me you want. I know how you are. But if you touch one hair on my sister’s head, or try to diminish her honor in any way, you will never be forgiven. Even I can’t help you then.”
Jess thought about these words as he watched his sister reaching out to comfort him. He kicked the swing so it would rock some more, and take their minds away.
* * *
“Jess, come on.” I finally said, “Let’s go get something to eat,” trying to cheer him up.
I offered to make him a honey and pita bread sandwich, his favorite, yet that night and the next, Jess did not emerge from his room.
A few days later he seemed himself again, whistling and sing- ing. It seems the Ranch Hands had gathered around him and let him drive the pickup truck out in the fields.
Jess loves a crowd. Dad looked out at him one day, sitting on his haunches near the corral, laughing with a group of the Ranch Hands, drawing in the dirt with a stick in his hand.
He chuckled. “That boy…whenever two or more workers are gathered together, there you’ll find him, right in the midst of them.”
Me, however, I prefer talking one-on-one. Mom says it is because I like to go deep in conversation, and explore every angle of a subject, and that takes time. I also love to reflect on things in silence, sometimes for hours or days. Not just anyone can handle that kind of silent communion.
I find that crowds usually get too loud to hear what I am saying, especially since Dad says I speak in a still, small voice much of the time.
Chapter 5 (Excerpt)
I was out grooming Espiritu in the barn, when Jess appeared at the entrance. He stood there a long time, cleared his throat, and then said, “I challenge you both to a race!”
“And what are you going to ride?” I asked. “Your imagination?”
“Oh, I have a noble steed,” he assured me. “Mom and Dad gave me a mount, as well.”
With that he turned and went to the side of the barn, saying, “Come on, now, come on.” When he walked back in I fell back on the hay, I was laughing so hard. For what our parents had given him was nothing but a donkey.
“His name is Verdad,” Jess said, lifting his shoulders with dignity. He whispered something into one of its huge ears and the donkey nodded its head.
“Brother, I refuse to race you,” I laughed. “I won’t insult Espiritu like that. I was warned never to quench her spirit, no matter what.”
“You just wait and see, Contessa Shekhinah Adonai,” Jess said, using my full name.
“Verdad and Espiritu will end up at the same place, at the same time. Someday. Mark my words.”
Jess was always saying that lately: “Mark my words.”
As a matter of fact, I did begin to write them down. Those that I could remember.
* * *
Thank you for sharing the Ranch with me today. Feel free to post your thoughts, comments or insights on my blog or Facebook Page.
Tomorrow I will share more excerpts from section two, The Valley Land.
Inspiring Divine Connection,