“There’s more to fear in the desert than scorpions and rattlesnakes.”
It’s the summer of 1962, middle of the Cold War, and the O’Brien family has moved off-grid to the Mojave Desert in Southern California. After all, the desert has to be a safer place to raise a family than the crime-ridden city, and there they can build a new future. But evil also stalks dusty desert roads, and eight-year-old Nonni finds herself harboring a terrible secret: Only she can identify the predator who has been terrorizing the community.
And he knows where she lives.
I read this morning that Donald Fricker was granted parole after serving twenty years in prison. Once I saw his name in print, the decades disappeared in the flick of a newspaper page. My childhood flooded back to eight-year-old me, too scared to identify him and save my family.
It was May of 1962. My family had recently moved to our new home, our grandparents’ one-room homestead cabin in the California high desert with tarpaper and chicken-wire lining the walls. It never occurred to me to ask my father why we had moved from our three-bedroom suburban home by the beach to “off the grid.”
All I knew was that we used kerosene lanterns, the chemical outhouse under the tall water tank, a wood- burning stove, and an old-fashioned ice-box that our father replenished daily with a big block of ice from Jolly’s Corner.
Tessa, my six-year-old sister, and I walked home alone, every school day, from the bus stop, a mile and a half down an isolated dirt road.
That’s when it happened, the thing that changed our family. I’ll never forget that day. I protected Tessa even though I broke all of my promises to Mama I’d made just the night before. To walk directly home from the bus stop, not to talk to strangers, and to stay away from open wells.
That afternoon, when the bus’s hissing air brakes signaled our stop, we leapt from the bottom step onto the dirt shoulder of the road.
I picked the perfect stone from the side of the road. It had to be small and round, with no sharp edges, and light enough to kick all the way home.
Tessa followed on my heels, talking my ear off, and stepping on the heel of one of my tennies. “Gave you a flat!”
“Back off!” I glared at her. Mama said those shoes were like gold, and we were to protect them. I gave the rock a punt and forged ahead.
Oblivious to things going on out there in the desert, we were lulled into a sense of safety and routine. Like Eve, we didn’t feel the danger around us until it was too late to escape. Instead, I should have been paying attention to the truck following us slowly.
Down the deserted road.
Yes, this is our story.
“I can’t recall the last time I was so impressed with someone’s writing style. It’s pure genius! Gunnysack Hell, told through the various family members’ point of view, takes the readers down a tunnel filled with mystery, thrills, and excitement. This masterpiece is not to be missed.”
~L. C. Hayden, Award-winning and best-selling author, http://www.lchayden.com/
(The Harry Bronson Thriller Series, When Memory Fails as seen on NBC and ABC, and others)
Nancy Brashear lives in Orange County, California, with her husband, Patrick, and their rescue dog, Goldie, where her grown children and seven grandgirls have supported her writing adventures. A professor emeritus in English, she has published short stories, poems, academic articles, textbook chapters as well as website content and writing projects with educational publishers. Gunnysack Hell is her debut fiction novel and was inspired by a true-crime event. And, yes, she did live off-grid with her family in a homestead cabin in the Mojave Desert when she was a child.
Read an excerpt of Grendolyn Peach Soleil’s Snow Dust and Boneshine The Chronicles of Granny Witch
Peter Barbour has been writing for over thirty years. He believes that what comes from the heart goes to the heart.
@pbarbour324_j GusatWork @BWGRoundtable
I read this morning that Donald Fricker was granted parole after serving twenty years in prison. Once I saw his name in print, the decades disappeared in the flick of a newspaper page. My childhood flooded back to eight-year-old me, too scared to identify him and save my family. @drnancybrashear #gunnysackhell @WildRosePress
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