“Come on, I’ll show you how to find rubies in the creek!”
The evergreen forest closed in around John and Candy. They stepped over loose earth and around algae-covered boulders, still slippery from a recent rain. John spotted a patch of bright orange mushrooms sprouting around the base of an enormous pine tree.
“Which alien planet sent those as spies?” he wondered aloud.
Delighted, Candy decided that they must find clues to lead them to the mushroom spaceship. No rubies were discovered that day, but John did find a bright red ladybug that he swore bit his nose, despite Candy’s protestations that “fairies” don’t bite. Candy found blue flowers with yellow sunny centers and John helped her lace them into her braids. She threaded her fingers with his when it was time to head back.
“Candy,” said a deep, quiet voice.
John jumped and Candy yelped.
“Oh my gosh. You scared me, Uncle Brian,” she said, grabbing her chest. John turned to see a tall thin man in faded jeans and a worn plaid flannel shirt: cuffs unbuttoned and gaping wide at his wrists. He was walking up the road towards them, just outside the little woodland. “Where’d you come from?”
“Candace, you need to come with me. Right now.” He was gruff and stony-eyed.
“In the truck?” Candy peered around him at an old blue pick-up. Its door was ajar. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re late, time to go home.” He held out his hand and flicked his fingers, impatient and distracted. “Just come with me. Now.”
“Jeez. Come on, John,” said Candy, tugging her new best friend’s hand.
Uncle Brian barked, “No. Just you. Let’s go—now.”
“But…” Candy let go of John, pink blooming across her face. “His grandma lives right next door to Grandma Catherine. He’s visitin’ from the city—”
“We’re not going to Grandma Catherine’s. Your mom wants me to bring you home.” Her uncle clenched his jaw and gestured towards the truck again.
The pick-up’s engine ticked out tense seconds. John strained his vision and could just see the limp figure of another kid asleep on the bench inside.
Candy followed his line of sight and perked up. “Andy’s with you?”
“Yes. Everything’s fine, sweetheart,” Uncle Brian said, his tone softening and his smile returning.
The smile looked forced to John.
“Okay. Well…bye.” Candy dove in for a hug. She squeezed his waist, leaned back and shrugged, “You just follow the trail around either way. It leads you right back to your grandma’s house. Or mine. It just circles the woods. Sorry.” She turned to walk with her uncle, without taking his hand.
“I can find it,” John said, not entirely certain that he could. But the unfamiliar trail was not what was setting his nerves on edge. That kid in the car looked more passed out than asleep; and John didn’t like the way Candy’s uncle smiled with his mouth but not his eyes. “Bye.”
John watched her walk away, her cut-off jean shorts still damp and muddy in the rump, and her coppery braids twisting down her back, trailing blue flowers with every step. She got into the cab next to her “sleeping” cousin—pinned between him and Uncle Brian—and waved from behind a filthy window. Her uncle slammed his door, avoiding John’s gaze. Then, the ratty truck spun its wheels hard, and they peeled away off the grassy shoulder, tires squealing on the asphalt. John gasped and trotted over to the road to see them racing away in a cloud of dust.
He sprinted home, his feet pounding the packed earth and his lungs choking on their exit.
Make sure to follow this blog for more excerpts and updates on The Tramp. I’ll be posting artwork that is featured in The Tramp, as well as music links, playlists, and YouTube links to videos I used in my research.
Find samples of The Tramp’s original music soundtrack by clicking HERE. It’s more than just great music—it’s a concept album that follows the story from beginning to end, with lyrics and instrumentation specifically designed for the characters. The full album will be released in April.