The Sun, the Moon, and Maybe the Trains by Rodney Jones
YA time travel*ebook*Red Adept Publishing (published October 2, 2012)
What would it take to convince you that the woods you just left is a hundred and forty-four years distant from the one you entered?
Ten years have passed since the Civil War broke up John Bartley’s family. Living with his aunt and uncle in the tiny village of Greendale, Vermont, isn’t filled with excitement for a seventeen year-old.
Until John walks into the woods one day and stumbles into 2009…
Fortunately, he chances upon the outspoken Tess McKinnon. To earn her trust, he must first convince her that he is neither a lunatic nor a liar. The proof he needs is buried at the end of a mountain road, where the ruins of Greendale lie just beneath a layer of dead leaves and moss.
What became of his home? Why is there no record of its existence?
Time travel, the Civil War, 2009, and Vermont. Wow, how did your novel come about? Can you share your journey from idea inception to publication?
Who isn’t intrigued by the idea of time travel? My inspiration to become a writer came from watching The Twilight Zone on a small black and white TV set in Selma, Indiana in the early sixties. I can remember three or four episodes involving time travel, though I’m sure there were more. The one that most impressed me was a story that took place in the Old West, called A Hundred Yards Over the Rim, where a man leaves his covered wagon to look for help for his ill son. As in my story, Rod Serling’s character stumbles into the future without even knowing it. There was forty years, however, between my seeing that TV show and writing my story.
It first came to me while I was hiking around Lowell Lake, near Londonderry, Vermont. As I neared the end of my hike, I remember playing with this idea in my head: If I was living in 1875, walking these same woods, and was suddenly transported to modern time, how would I know? I began looking for signs: a short piece of plastic, surveyor’s tape tied to a tree branch, a discarded beer can, a cigarette butt, the faint murmur of distant traffic, and the thunder of a far-off jet. What would a person from 1875 make of these things? I returned to this idea on subsequent hikes, taking it a little further each time—just having fun with it, making a game of it. I carried a small notepad and pen with me and jotted down anything that came to me.
How would my 1875 character respond to seeing an automobile whizzing down a road? Right, it’s impossible to know, but I would have to surmise they’d be completely and totally freaked. If I were to stick to this likely reality, however, I’d end up with chapter after chapter of repetitive stuttering and senseless babbling—kind of boring. I’d have to find a readable compromise.
How would the forests differ? What changes have occurred in the local landscape since 1875? I toured the Custer Sharp House, headquarters of the Londonderry Vermont Historical Society, and there studied photographs taken in the area just after the turn of the twentieth century. I was surprised to see that the mountains were nearly treeless and crisscrossed with stone walls—the boundaries of sheep pastures. Today, the Green Mountains are covered with forests, though you’ll not find but a handful of trees that are over a hundred years old. The trees of modern day Vermont are young compared to those my main character, John Bartley, would have known. The trees are the first thing he notices when he slips from his time into 2009.
Also, I talked to locals, read books on Vermont history, and letters and poems from the time—I came upon an interesting collection of letters that were written by two Vermont brothers during the Civil War. That was where I picked up some of the more interesting colloquialisms of the period. Issues with speech… I feel I’ve treaded softly there. I believe that if you were to transport a young man from the nineteenth-century mountains of Vermont and put him in a room with a young woman from modern day Vermont, they’d likely have a harder time understanding each other than my two characters, John and Tess, do.
I found the perfect setting for the story right in my own backyard. I first learned of the village of Greendale from an old-timer in Londonderry whose account of the abandoned village was so intriguing I had to immediately go off and explore it. Greendale, as I’d described in my story—fragments of dishes, pottery, old dilapidated stone foundations, the ruins of a mill—is precisely what you’d find there today. It’s a bit spooky up there. The mystery around what happened to the village remains unsolved. The account I give in my story of Abby Hemenway, the Vermont historian, is, I believe, accurate. The only recorded history of Greendale that may have existed (that I’m aware of) was destroyed in a fire before it could be published. Very weird, I think, but perfect material for a novel.
The preliminary research provided me with a thousand details to work into a plot. The plot came to me bit by bit as I wrote (I used the ‘Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott’ method of plot development), but then evolved it further as I edited the story. It took me twice as long to edit as it did to complete the first draft.
And finally, the publishing: I had my manuscript uploaded to Authonomy.com. Authonomy has a page set up that lists the top-rated books on a weekly basis. The Sun, the Moon, and Maybe the Trains made it to the top of its genre one day, and stayed there for maybe five minutes. Lynn, the owner of Red Adept Publishing, just so happened to be looking at that moment, the right moment. Being a fan of time travel stories, my book caught her attention. Yes, I put a lot of work into making my story readable and enjoyable, but I’d call having it discovered in that way pure luck.
I’m a lucky guy, and I’m also grateful.
I’d spent the first day of July, eighteen seventy-five, bouncing along behind my uncle’s two horses, driving a wagon of bagged flour and grist up over the mountain to Wallingford and then into Rutland. It’d often happen that farmers bringing their grain to my uncle for milling would have no other means to pay than a percentage of their crop. Whenever that percentage added up to a wagonload, I’d be employed to make a delivery to Jacobson’s General. But more and more, the farmers were giving up on grain and turning to sheep. It seemed like nothing was regular anymore, except for the sun, the moon, and maybe the trains.
The following morning, after lying there in the wagon listening to Rutland wake up, then getting up and going across the street to watch the seven-fifteen from Burlington arrive, I started home. Bright, cumbersome clouds lumbered overhead, small patches of blue setting one apart from the other; it looked as though it’d be a fine drive. About four miles before Greendale, at a level spot just beyond the last ridge, I stopped to give the horses a rest. I was carrying their watering pail up from the creek when I heard a faint whining from somewhere on the other side of the road. A dog is what I figured. I didn’t hear anything else, talking or anything, just that sorry-sounding critter.
I thought it curious, a dog being out there in the middle of nothing. I was never one to stand by while an animal suffered, though, so I went looking for it.
I made a soft, chirpy whistle, thinking it couldn’t be far off, but then the sound quieted, and I couldn’t be sure where to look. I had my eye on a spot just south of me, near the base of a big old oak tree, when I thought I saw something move. Maybe it was that pup, maybe a rabbit, a squirrel, or something else; I caught no more than a brief, sidelong glimpse. I kept my eye at the base of that tree and crept forward a little. I blinked and, just like that, the tree was gone, the oak tree. Just like that—a blink—gone.
The hairs on the back of my neck bristled. I stared. Of course, I knew that what I had just seen, I couldn’t have seen. I squinted and blinked, looked to the left and right and back again, then grabbed hold of a nearby maple sapling to keep myself upright while I gave the woods another goin’ over.
“No,” I whispered. My grip tightened on the sapling. “No, this ain’t right.”
It wasn’t just the one tree; it was all of them. They were, every last one of them, changed, as if they’d been rearranged, as if I’d been dropped on the other side of the world—an entirely different forest. I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them.
“No.” I turned and looked behind me. For the life of me, I didn’t know where I was or even where to start sorting it out. But then I noticed a ribbon right there in the sapling I was holding onto, just above my hand, tied to a twig. I wouldn’t have thought much of it, given the circumstances, but it was especially queer. I’d never seen a ribbon that color—orange, bright as a setting sun. It had a hold of my eye just as I had a hold of that tree. I thought, why would someone go and put a ribbon in a tree, way the heck out here, in the middle of—I again glanced about. “This is crazy. It’s crazy.” I took a good solid look at that ribbon and noticed something even more peculiar about it. I squinted. “What the dickens?”
I had to let go of the scrawny trunk below it in order to have use of my hands. They shook as I untied the thing from the branch and continued shaking as I attempted to examine it.
The orange strip was made of the strangest material—as thin as the skin of an onion, with a tiny, intricate, woven texture along its length.
The whining, the trees, the ribbon—it had not occurred to me that they might all be members of the same crazy clan. I’d altogether forgotten about the dog—didn’t hear it anymore—and had nearly forgotten about the trees as my attention was so completely fixed on that piece of ribbon in my hand. Then, a movement caught the corner of my eye, and I swung my head to the right. The sapling I had been holding onto just a minute before was gone. I looked to the south. There stood the oak tree in its proper place, the place where it had been deeply rooted for who knows how many hundreds of years. It didn’t take but a moment to realize I was exactly where I should’ve been in the first place.
“Move!” I started running, but then quickly stopped as I realized I was headed in the wrong direction. I glanced back at the oak tree, then up toward the treetops, searching for the sun while trying to find my breath. After a moment, I got my bearings and took one last look around to assure I was where I thought I was. “Go! Go!” I scrambled back to the wagon, slipping, tripping, and stumbling over limbs and branches along the way.
I covered almost a full mile before I found a normal breath and, in the time it took to travel that distance, made absolutely no progress in sorting out what had happened. My mind was a tangle of conflicting notions, and the only way to unravel it was to deny as much as I could; I didn’t see the oak tree disappear. Trees, as everyone knows, don’t do anything but stand in the same spot year after year and grow—and slowly, at that. I didn’t see the forest go from one thing, to another, and back again. It was all just a hiccup in my mind.
I held onto that ribbon—put it in the storage box under the seat. Every now and then, I’d reach down for it, half expecting it not to be there. It was, though. Every time I went for it, it was there.
About the author:
While a past resident of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, New York, and Vermont, Rodney Jones now resides in Richmond, Indiana, where he whiles away his days pecking at a laptop, riding his ten-speed up the Cardinal Greenway, taking long walks with his daughter, or backpacking and wilderness camping.
His list of past occupations reads like his list of past residences, though his life-long ambition was to be an artist until he discovered a latent affinity for writing.
“In art,” Rodney says, “I was constantly being asked to explain images constructed from a palette of emotions and ideas, which usually required complex narratives to convey their meaning, if there even was a meaning. In writing, the words are creating the images, images are telling a story, the story is evoking feelings. I like it. There’s nothing to explain.”
Rodney’s interests include: art, science, politics, whiskey and chocolate, music (collecting vinyl records), gardening, and travel.
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