INDIE BOOK RECOMMENDATION FLINT RANCH BY JETTE HARRIS
EXCERPT FROM FLINT RANCH
description of Flint Ranch
With one tragic event, Thatch’s idyllic childhood playing with the horses on his uncle’s ranch turns into nine years of hard labor, torture, and fighting to prevent his mother from suffering the same. He only finds comfort in the moments he steals away with his beloved horses.
But Thatch grows tall, nine years of hard labor makes him strong, and finding a refuge at school—despite being a pariah among his peers—makes him clever. When he realizes this potential and uses it to combat his abuser, the retaliation is swift and merciless, leading them both to commit unforgivable acts that will change Thatch’s life forever.
April, 1973 Age 11
The hinges squeaked as Thatch opened the bedroom door. The sound was barely audible, but to Thatch it was as loud as a siren, alerting his uncle of the intruder. He froze, his hand on the doorknob, straining to listen, but the house was empty; Jed was breaking a new horse, and his mother was washing linens. He eased the door open, just wide enough for him to slip inside.
Jed’s room was cold and smelled like the inside of an old leather boot. Judy had already gathered the dirty laundry from the floor. Jed never spent enough time awake in his own room to make a mess, although he never hesitated to make a mess of his nephew’s. Thatch glanced around, searching for something that would not be missed. He had already stolen a pair of boots he had never seen Jed wear, a vase that only held dead stems, and an antique spittoon that had never been cleaned out.
Thatch pulled back the curtain to peer out the window. He had a perfect view of his mother hanging sheets on the line. An unidentifiable emotion stirred in his chest, torn between melancholy and anger. She had barely spoken to him for years. Years of silent Sunday dinners, joyless Christmases, bitter birthdays. Why did she have to shut him out like that?
Judy returned to the laundry basket. The other sheets were perfect, pristine, white. The fitted sheet she pulled out next was covered in red and brown stains–his sheet. He closed his eyes, face burning with shame. Last night had been especially bad. She had to wash that out and hang it on the line like the flag of some victorious conqueror. A sound drifted up to him. He opened his eyes to see his mother, face pressed into the sheet, drop to her knees. Linens forgotten, she bowed to the ground and sobbed.
Thatch swallowed the lump in his throat and wiped away some tears. His chest was tight. Taking a deep breath, he glanced around. His eyes landed on a framed black-and-white photo on top of the dresser. Jed and Aunt Betty, dressed in their wedding finery, smiled fixedly at him. Thatch clenched his teeth. Surely Jed would miss it, but Thatch didn’t care: It would be in pieces and buried by the time he noticed.
Rising on his toes, Thatch snatched it from the dresser, leaving an outline in the thick dust. He spun toward the door, but froze mid-step. His heart pounded against his ribs. Jed stood in the doorway. His cold grey eyes stared down his nose at the boy. His jaw clenched and unclenched, but his face remained expressionless. He took a deep breath.
“Where you goin’ with that–boy?”
Thatch could not move, breathe, or think. He attempted to answer, but his mouth would not cooperate. His muscles were twisted and tense.
“I asked you a question.” Jed took a step toward him. Every fiber in Thatch’s body screamed for him to run, but there was nowhere to go. Jed’s immense stature filled the doorway. Thatch’s ragged breathing finally pulled enough oxygen for his brain to function. He swallowed.
“Pl-plinking. I was gonna use it for… for target practice.”
The smile that twisted across Jed’s face was more fearsome than any scowl. “Give it here, boy.” He held out his hand.
Thatch surrendered it, trying not to get too close, but Jed grabbed his wrist, crushing and twisting, before taking the frame. Thatch fought a child-like cry. Jed scrutinized the photo as if he had never seen it before. Given the amount of dust on it, that was possible.
“So, you’re telling me, you were gonna use my face for target practice, huh?”
“Yes.” Thatch’s voice trembled with tears.
“To shoot at?”
“Yes.” The word came out firmer this time.
“Do you want to shoot me, boy?”
Anger rose in his throat, overwhelming his fear and springing out of his mouth: “Yes!”
Jed’s eyes widened with surprise and flickered over him, then returned to the photo. His gaze fell upon the shiny frame. “And what about the silver, huh?”
“The silver frame. What were you gonna do with it?”
“I already told you!”
Jed twisted Thatch’s arm. “Do you know how much this is worth?”
“You expect me to believe you are gonna shoot at—to destroy—this silver, then just throw it away, huh?”
Jed swung the frame into Thatch’s head. The glass cracked, taking some of his hair as he reeled. He would have fallen were it not for Jed’s iron grip on his wrist.
“Stop lyin’ to me!”
“I’m not!” The frame hit his head again. The glass shattered, shards cutting into his scalp and raining onto the floor.
“Did that little Red girl put you up to this?” Jed screamed, “Are you fuckin’ her, boy?”
“What?” The unfamiliar word jarred Thatch out of his panic enough to process the correct response: “No!”
“Are you still lyin’ to me?” Jed threw the broken frame against the wall.
Jed slammed his fist into Thatch’s head. The boy hit the ground, his skull cracking against the hardwood. His mind grew foggy; He did not want to get up again. Maybe this time, if he didn’t move, Jed would stop. Maybe this time…
Thatch gasped. Head spinning, he pushed himself up on his elbows to find his mother standing in the doorway. Jed grabbed her by the throat and slammed her into the wall.
“Ma!” Thatch jumped to his feet. The room reeled and lurched, almost sending him back to the floor. His mother was turning purple. Jumping, Thatch threw himself on Jed’s back, wrapping his arms around his uncle’s thick neck.
Jed tossed Judy aside. Grabbing at the boy’s head, he clutched his arm and pulled him loose. He slammed Thatch’s body against the wall until he lost his grip. The boy fell, face-down. The floor knocked the remaining breath out of him. Jed grabbed Thatch’s hair and began to slam his forehead against the hardwood.
Thatch’s view oscillated from his mother to the red stain blooming on the floor under his face. Judy raised her head, her fingers creeping toward him. Thatch’s mind went blank before he could reach her.
All Thatch could feel was pressure, against his back and inside of him, the rhythmic pushing and pulling, then a pause. The pressure disappeared as Jed stood. Pulling the straps of his overalls back over his shoulders, he left the room without a word.
Consciousness crept up on him. Thatch didn’t know if it was evening or morning, but dusky light filtered in through the curtains. He may have been staring at his door for several hours. It may have been a few minutes. He didn’t remember ever seeing it closed before. Beyond it, he could hear a woman sobbing.
Thatch grunted to confirm he was still alive. He attempted to move his head, but his neck was so stiff, he abandoned the idea. He lay on his stomach across his bed. He could not remember how he got there, but flashes of what followed shot through his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block them out.
One arm dangled off the edge of the bed. Slowly, he curled and uncurled his fingers. The third finger refused to move, sending searing pain into his knuckle. He attempted to move his other arm from above his head. It was numb. He dragged it down to his side and sensation returned with fiery pins and needles. When he moved his legs, a tearing sensation shot between them and up his back, making him cry out.
Thatch gave up attempting to move. He began to cry, although the heaving sobs wracked him with pain. ***
Jed had put a padlock on the door. Once, sometimes twice a day, usually in the morning, he would visit. These visits were Thatch’s only method of telling time. He would begin to cry the moment the hasp scraped. He wished for death, that the pain would kill him. It never did.
After Jed thumped downstairs, a mouse-like footfall would scurry to the door. The padlock would shift, but held. Jed was too careful. A red-rimmed blue eye would peer through the hole where the knob should have been. Thatch was in too much pain to move. It was painful enough clutching for the sheet to cover his naked body. All he could do to protect his mother now was close his eyes, force together his cracked lips, and pretend to snore.
A bucket had been placed by the bed for him to use as a toilet. He could barely move, and often reached it too late, or missed it altogether. When Jed visited, he would toss the contents out the window. He never brought food. After peering into Thatch’s glassy eyes, he brought a bucket of water and left it on the dresser. Thatch managed to pull himself up and shove his face into the water, lapping it like a dog.
His captivity felt like forever. In reality, it was only six days. Thatch’s freedom was uneventful. He hadn’t noticed Jed had left the door open until he bellowed up the stairs.
“Boy! Get yer lazy ass outside! The stalls haven’t been mucked all week!”
Thatch’s eyes shot open. His breath caught in his throat. It had to be a trick.
The horses must be miserable. Thatch clung to this thought. He swallowed his bitterness and fear. Clenching his teeth against the pain, he lowered himself off the edge of the bed, crouching until sure his legs could support his weight.
He tugged his waste-crusted sheets and blanket from the bed and piled them by the door. He was able to pull on a button-up shirt and jeans, but his torso and legs were too sore to bend over and pull on socks. Half-limping, half-dragging himself, he made it downstairs. He stepped into his boots and paused at the back door. Outside, Jed was tossing bales of hay off the bed of his pick-up. Thatch waited, hand on the door knob, for him to finish and move farther away.
A gasp and a thud made him turn. The wrenching motion radiated pain throughout his body, making him see stars. When they cleared, his mother was standing on the threshold of the kitchen, the laundry basket at her feet and a hand over her mouth.
His breath came in ragged gasps. His lips began to tremble. Judy kicked past the basket and pulled him into her arms. His entire body felt bruised and sore, but he clung to her, fighting the urge to cry again.
“Oh, my poor boy,” she sobbed. “My baby boy…” She ran her fingers through the hair on the back of his head, and he buried his face against her shoulder. She kissed his forehead above the contusion that spread across it. “I love you,” she whispered. “I’m so—”
“—fuck’re you doin’, huh?” Jed threw open the back door. They sprang apart. “Did you hear me, boy? Get out there and get to work!”
Judy’s fingers trailed down his arm. She squeezed his hand before they parted. Jed leered at her, his hand flat as if he were going to raise it to slap her, but he did not. At least, not as Thatch was heading out the door.
Virgil Roanhorse, Flint Ranch’s senior ranch hand, leaned on a pitchfork by the stable door. He was a short, sturdy, bronze-faced man who wore his black hair in a braid down his back. He kept a cool demeanor, unless he was cracking one of his rare jokes, but there was shock in his eyes when his gaze fell upon the boy. Thatch kept his face toward the ground as he passed.
“I fell off a horse,” he lied. No matter what he said, Thatch knew Virgil would know the truth. There was no way he couldn’t. Thatch fought to walk properly as he passed the stalls. It brought him no comfort to step inside; The stable smelled rank with mildew and manure.
“What’re you doing?” Virgil asked as Thatch reached for the shovel.
“Jed told me to muck out the stalls.” Thatch placed a hand on the handle, unsure whether he would be able to wrap his fingers around it.
“No, no, son,” Virgil said. “Brush down the horses.”
“Jed’s gone to get feed.” He confiscated the shovel and handed Thatch the brush. “He told me to tell you, I will muck out the stalls, and you’re to brush down the horses.”
Thatch closed his eyes and waited for the tears of gratitude to fade. He couldn’t force the words past the lump in his throat, but he mouthed them: “Thank you.”
Thatch didn’t know when he would be able to ride again. Never, his youthful sense of permanence told him, not with the tearing sensation he experienced any time he swung his gait a little too wide. Too sore to go on his own and too injured to ride, he pulled Archie out to lean on. The horse walked extra-slow, pausing occasionally to nibble dandelions so Thatch could rest.
On the far end of the ranch, where no one but horses ever wandered, three posts had been driven into the ground. Broken glass and rusty cans lay scattered around their bases. An old saddle, worn and flaking, lay on the ground thirty yards in front of them. Thatch sighed with relief when he noticed a small rifle leaning upon it. His trip had not been wasted. He didn’t expect to see anyone when he looked around, but he did so anyway. After a few failed attempts, he whistled a short tune. A small girl materialized out of the woods.
Virginia Roanhorse, two years younger than Thatch, was small and sturdy like her father. Her dark hair looked as if her mother lopped it to the chin with kitchen shears every month or so. She moved silently, her footfalls nothing more than a soft breeze over the grass. When Thatch stepped out from behind of the horse, Ginny’s eyes went wide. Her hands flew to her mouth.
“I waited,” she said in a small, tight voice. “When I came to see what was taking so long, I heard screaming…”
Thatch lowered his head. “He caught me,” he confessed. His lie about falling off a horse would not have worked with her anyway; She knew him too well.
He took Archie to the fence and tied him off. Ginny mercifully did not ask him to elaborate. Seeing her brought the memory back into clear light: Despite what he told Jed, she had been part of the reason Thatch had been in his room. A question tugged at his mind as he returned to her. “Ginny, what does fucken mean?”
“Fucken,” she repeated under her breath. “Oh! Fucking! It’s a curse word, means to have sex, to fuck.”
“Sex?” He heard this word at school, but had only a vague concept of what it meant.
“Oh.” Thatch blushed. Why would Jed accuse him of doing something like that with her? She was far too young to be useful. As he applied the term to humans, the image in his head fell into place. Fucking. That was what Jed was doing, he was fucking him. A painful jolt shot through his belly as he imagined himself using her the way Jed used him. Grimacing, he turned and limped toward the old saddle. Now the word made sense: Fuck. Short, hard, painful.
“Something Jed said. Don’t ask… please.”
“Where have you been all week?”
“Grounded.” He looked at the posts mournfully. His rifle was not in its place on the rack. “I forgot my rifle,” he lied, “and I didn’t bring anything to shoot at.”
“What was it you tried to steal?”
“A photo… in a frame.”
Ginny’s eyes widened. She stepped close, reaching into her pocket. “I pulled this out of the trash.” She pulled out a wad of paper and unfolded it. Blood rushed into Thatch’s face as she held the wedding photo out to him. “You can use my rifle.”
About the author - Jette Harris
Jette Harris writes heart-pounding, multi-genre serial killer narratives.
Born and raised in Atlanta, she graduated from Mercer University with degrees in English and German. After teaching for three years, she jumped into the private sector. She is now a writer, editor, and writing coach in addition to her full-time job.