FICTION: Two Roads Diverge In The Snowy Woods

The road less traveled isn’t always a good one.

Buck’s parents stayed at the Hotel Thayer during his recovery. After a week Margaret had the look of a child kept in at recess.

“Graham, won’t he ever speak up again?” Margaret whispered. “He had such a manly voice like my brothers.”

Graham shook his head. “Buck, you’re up and alive much faster than anyone would have dreamed. For that we must be thankful.”

But Buck hadn’t a mind for gratitude. He returned to class with great fanfare. Sympathy poured out on him now that hadn’t dared express itself in summer. Buck shook it off like a rooster cleaning its feathers. Drill and artillery kept his attention, but not much else.

Fred, making use of the many plebes eager to bone popularity with upperclassmen, ordered them to find and deface anything of Streeter’s. They tripped him in line and spilled his food, but Streeter remained solid and nothing satisfied Fred quite enough. Streeter’s grades held slightly above average, and he conducted himself with a calm assuredness.

Exams now loomed right before the holidays. Fred, making a surprise visit to Buck’s room, found his brother, blouse untucked and face unshaven, staring at a piece of string on his desk.

“Buck, old fellow, have you finished your studies?”

Buck shifted in his seat. He opened his mouth, but Fred must strain to hear. “I was about to . . .” Buck crumpled a piece of stationary and threw it towards the wastebasket, missing.

“This room is a cesspool, Buck.”

“So?”

Fred sighed. “Get dressed.”

Buck made no effort to move.

“Buck, there’s something I need you to do tonight. We should have done it long ago.”

Buck tried to speak, but hacked up phlegm and spit into a teacup.

Fred shook his head at the cup. “An officer has to be able to shout out orders, Buckie. Damn, this is a sorry state of affairs altogether. Get up now.”

Fred wrapped Buck’s neck with a scarf retrieved from the pile of clothes on his bed and flopped the soft hat Thankful had sent on Buck’s head.

Buck pulled on his coat and followed Fred to Streeter’s room.

“All you have to do is pretend, yet again, that you forgive him, Buck.”

“No!” Buck squeaked.

“Oh, don’t worry. Streeter will believe you. After all you’ve got a track record for such stupidity,” Fred said and slapped Buck’s shoulder.

Buck shoved his hands in his pockets.

“So, you’ll get him to come into the dark, and I’ll take it from there. This prank will surely make Streeter think twice about staying at the academy.”

“Will you be satisfied then?” Buck whispered.

“We will be more than satisfied,” Fred replied. “Now go make friends again and do it fast. I have plans for later.”

“Study?”

“Ha-ha. I’ve finished my studies days ago. I have my priorities straight, Buck Crenshaw—now go!”

Fred met with two plebes at the end of the hall and walked out into the night. Buck turned back to the closed door and knocked.

“Buck!” Streeter let him in. Through the window a carpet of shine covered the stone structures of the academy as snow fell.

“Streeter, I. . .”

“Buck, you know, I’ve only stayed on here in hopes that you would forgive me. I figured that if you could hold up maybe I would try as well.”

Buck considered escaping back to his room, but knew that he must stop being so drawn in by people. Buck was still trying to convince himself of this as they came out into the wintry landscape. Fred and his friends jumped Streeter, pulling a pillowcase over his head.

“Buck!” Streeter cried, but Fred said, “Remember how he abandoned you!”

They dragged Streeter along the steep little paths where the young ladies picked flowers in summer. Buck followed a few paces behind. So far nothing too terrible happened and Buck felt a small thrill seeing Streeter roughed up and frightened. He almost enjoyed being a part of something with his brother again.

After a long march, they came to a very secret place. No one spoke. One of the cadets, a pudgy and pathetic plebe, who couldn’t hold fast to even one friend, produced a rope and knife. They pulled Streeter’s boots off, throwing them into the soggy underbrush. Tying his ankles together, they nicked him with the knife when cutting the rope a few times.

“Fred,” Buck wheezed.

“Shut up, Buck!” Fred yelled as he yanked rope around Streeter’s wrists. He pulled out his own knife and again cut Streeter.

“Stop it!” Buck whispered and pulled Fred by the shoulder.

Fred shoved Buck back. The plebes dragged Streeter and kicked him a few times. Fred laughed. “Come now, Buck, be a man for once in your life! You’re so damned soft—like Father and Uncle Oliver, too! You’ll never get a girl now the way you look and think about your career—what he’s done to it! Be a man!”

Buck ran up and kicked Streeter’s body with everything he had in him, just once. He heard a rib crack, but Streeter didn’t cry out. Fred and the others laughed.

“Fred, this is wrong,” Buck said.

“You’re a caution, Buckie, after just breaking his bones!”

The plebes pulled Streeter up, only to knock him down again and the pillowcase slipped off exposing Streeter’s terrified expression.

“He won’t be making exams in the morning, I figure. Come on fellows. Let’s go for drinks at Benny Haven’s. Leave him. We’ll have him fetched after our tests,” Fred said.

“But it’s too cold,” Buck said.

“Stop being a mother hen. Streeter wants to be in the army so bad, let him see what it’s like in Dakota.” Fred walked off.

Buck followed, quietly protesting, but he glanced back as the two plebes rolled Streeter over the Palisades.

“Oh, God!” Buck ran to the ledge.

Streeter’s body lay precariously on a narrow bit of rock five yards below.

“He’s dead!” Fred exclaimed. “What the hell did you go and do that for, boys?”

Buck caught a satisfaction in Fred’s tone that shocked him. “We’re murderers!” Buck cried.

Fred slapped him hard. “No. It was an accident. He slipped. That’s all.” Fred scurried down the slick ridge to Streeter, untied him and threw the ropes as far off into the night as he could.

“But Fred, the boots and the cuts! And I was the last to be seen with him!”

“Speak up, you fool. I’m tired of this act! We’ll say that you and Streeter were drunk.”

“Drunk? Everyone will know it’s a lie!”

Fred shook Buck. “I can’t hear you when you whisper. Everyone will be happy—don’t you see that?”

“Fred, I don’t see it.”

“Then you are no cadet. It’s too late to change anything. We’ll say that Streeter must have lost his way in the woods.”

Streeter moaned. The plebes ran.

“God damn those idiots!” Fred complained. “Well, maybe we should send him over the edge and put him out of his misery.”

“We have to save him! This is too much!” Buck choked out.

Voices called from the woods.

“It’s the guard!” Fred threw his knife over the cliff and ran with Buck following.

It was long after midnight when Buck came back to his room. Carter was awake. By the light of a candle Buck pulled his boots off and wiped the mud and snow from them. His coat, scarf and hat, he kept on, but still he quaked in the cold.

“Buck,” Carter whispered, “is everything all right? Shall I make us tea?”

Buck threw his boots beneath his bed and climbed under the blankets. Carter slipped his feet into his old reveilles and came to sit beside Buck.

“Friend, where were you tonight?”
Buck’s insides roiled. “I was drinking.” His teeth chattered.

“Come now, how am I to believe it—with exams in a few hours,” Carter laughed.

“I was drinking—with Streeter—but he’s lost somehow—I don’t know how—or where,” Buck’s lips turned blue with terror. “The guard came, I guess. Well, we heard something or someone. Then I came home.”

His old friend surveyed him. “You’d never leave another cadet behind. Wait a minute; I see it clearly now. Bully for you—finally you’ve gotten Streeter back! So the guards will find him drunk, you say? Perfect! Well done, Buck. It took a while, but finally you got it right. I won’t say a word. Oh, so he’ll probably miss exams, too! Ha! This is just perfect.”

Buck turned to the wall.

“Oh, yes, you’re quite right, Buck; we must get our rest for tomorrow,” Carter said and walked to his side of the room. He turned back. “Buck, are you . . . feeling unwell? You’re not sick or anything?”

Buck waved him off in the half light.

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

PART TWELVE HERE

PART THIRTEEN HERE

PART FOURTEEN HERE

PART FIFTEEN HERE

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