11 October 2011

 One of my earliest memories of Grandpa is of a seed-head of Big Bluestem shooting from his mouth. Dad had just told him that a new family, the Joneses, was settling on a plat not two miles from our farm in Iowa. Two weeks later, we’d loaded up our wagon and were on our way to the Nebraska Sandhills.

Our new homestead was a poor one. The Sandhills are dotted with small lakes, but the 320 acres our family claimed under the Homestead Act had none. There was a creek, but it ran dry part of the year. Grandpa loved that land anyway. We were still living in our wagon—hadn’t even built our first crude soddie yet—when Grandpa hitched Caleb and Joshua to his new Deere plow and carved a furrow in the hillside above the creek. I toddled along behind with Dad, helping plant the Cottonwood cuttings we’d carried with us.

Every year from then on, we celebrated Planting Day on April 10th, pacing off the length of the tree’s shadows and comparing it to our own. Grandpa taught me how to use the ratios to calculate the tallest tree’s height while I was still young enough to sit on his knee. We made a little ritual of it, recording those trees’ heights in the family Bible, where most folks wrote births and deaths. By the time I turned eight, both me and the Cottonwoods were big enough for tree climbing. Many days I’d enjoy the breeze from their topmost branches, some 30 feet above the ground.

The rains fled from the hot winds of 1893 and our grass withered. We were forced to sell most of our stock at ruinously low prices. Grandpa had enough cash put by to get us through that year and the next. But when the drought continued into 1895, the bank foreclosed and we moved on to North Platte. Grandpa passed on April 8th that year. I’m not sure which killed him: being forced to live amidst the 3,300 souls that thronged North Platte, or the prospect of spending a Planting Day away from his beloved Cottonwoods.

Eventually, things turned around and Dad got work in the stockyards. He had found his calling and quickly became a partner in a cattle dealing business. Every April, he’d take a few days off, and we’d trek to the old homestead for Planting Day. By the time I turned sixteen in 1901, they were a towering line of majestic trees—the tallest measuring a full 71 feet. Every year when we returned to North Platte, we scribed the mightiest height in the old Bible in a slow, meticulous hand.

I taught myself to bark an auction and joined Dad in the business. We did well for ourselves, and made the Planting Day trip in style in a new Duke side-spring runabout in 1907 pulled by a matched pair of Morgans. That year, the mightiest of our trees topped 90 feet.

The next year they were all stumps. The Salomans, who owned the land now, had done poorly in the Panic of 1907 and sold our trees for fence posts. Dad slugged old Ernie Saloman, and I had to drag him back to the runabout and drive us home. Neither of us had the heart to make an entry in the family Bible for 1908.   
In April of 1909, Dad went back up to the old homestead and apologized to Ernie. I stayed back in North Platte. I couldn’t bear to look over that row of dead stumps again.

When Dad returned from that trip, he was white-faced and furtive. I asked after his health, and he grunted and turned away. I fetched a box of Dr. Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People, thinking his was precisely the condition for which Dr. Williams had formulated his patent medicine. But Dad banned me from his study.

Some days later, I was moved by some impulse to lift the front cover of the family Bible. In a tremulous hand Dad had written, “1909: 93 feet.”

It took a whole year to tease the story out of him. My every entreaty was rebuffed or worse. After Dad returned from his solo trip to the row of stumps in 1910, he finally was moved to confide in me, “Son, I’d thought it a hallucination but it’s an unlikely phantasm that happens twice. On Planting Day, Pa’s trees still cast a shadow.” Then he allowed me to observe as he scribed, “1910: 95 feet” in the family Bible.

Now Dad married late and Mom bore me later still, so he was getting on in years. I chalked his odd behavior up to the ravages of age, that harmless softness of mind that afflicts so many of our elders.

And so it went. Every year Dad drove the runabout up to the Saloman place. And every year when he returned, he added an entry to our Bible.

Woodrow Wilson declared war with Germany on April 6th, 1917. Like many other Nebraskans still in the vigor of our youth, I did my patriotic duty and enlisted, sending a telegraph to Omaha to that effect. Neither Dad nor I thought anything would come of it for months, seeing as the wheels of government grind slowly. So Dad left on the 8th for his annual pilgrimage to our old homestead.

As luck would have it, the next day I received a telegraph ordering me to report to the recruitment center in Omaha on the 12th of that same month.  If I took the last possible train to Omaha, I would leave before Dad returned, and miss my final opportunity to say goodbye before joining The Great War. I began a breakneck ride, hoping to reach him at the old homestead the next day.

It was near twilight on Planting Day when I finally reached the Salomans’ property. The earth was scorched and brown, with white sand blowouts everywhere. It looked as though it hadn’t rained on the plat in ten years.

My normally trusty horse shied, and I was forced to dismount. The Cottonwood stumps lined above the dry creek were grey and weather-beaten. Long black shadows crept up the hillside from each stump. Each formed an image of a mighty Cottonwood in stark black relief on the dead ground.

My father’s runabout slewed at the far end of the stumps with one wheel thrown and its team unaccountably absent. I stole along the row, my heart hammering in my throat, fearing that each footfall within those supernatural shadows might be my last.

When I reached the final stump, I found my father sprawled against it. His face was as grey and dead as the wood itself.

His right hand clutched a Cottonwood sprig, its leaves green as a rainy spring.

 Ashfall is available starting TODAY from Tanglewood Press!

Synopsis: Under the bubbling hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Most people don't know it's there. The caldera is so large that it can only be seen from a plane or satellite. It just could be overdue for an eruption, which would change the landscape and climate of our planet.

Ashfall is the story of Alex, a teenage boy left alone for the weekend while his parents visit relatives. When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts unexpectedly, Alex is determined to reach his parents. He must travel over a hundred miles in a landscape transformed by a foot of ash and the destruction of every modern convenience that he has ever known, and through a new world in which disaster has brought out both the best and worst in people desperate for food, water, and warmth. With a combination of nonstop action, a little romance, and very real science, this is a story that is difficult to stop reading and even more difficult to forget.

Excerpt -

The first two chapters are available on my website: www.mikemullinauthor.com. You may reprint the first two chapters in whole or in part on your website so long as you do not charge anyone anything to access them.

Bio -

Mike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mike juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really hoping this writing thing works out.

Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. ASHFALL is his first novel.

Find Mike Online:

Order Online:

Enter to win a SIGNED copy of ASHFALL!!

Rules and how to enter:

You MUST be at least 13 years old to enter.
Please fill out the form provided below
This giveaway is open to US & Canadian mailing addresses only.
Giveaway ends: October 25th, 2011

REMINDER: *If you are interested in the COMMENT CONTEST, remember to include your email address with your comment for an extra entry.
Please ready full entry rules >>>HERE<<< 

Mike, Thanks so much for stopping by for Haunted Halloween! And a HUGE congrats on today's release of Ashfall! And Thanks so much for donating the copy of Ashfall for the giveaway!

*I am NOT compensated for any of the links provided in this post.

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  1. Hearing a lot of good things about this one!!


  2. Thanks for the giveaway! I just read a fabulous review of this one that has me dying to read it.

    Really interesting guest post as well. =)

  3. This is one I'm highly looking forward to!! Thanks a bunch :)

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  4. Thank you for the giveaway! This great book has been everywhere :) Really want to read it.
    Email: osnapitzAngiex3(AT)aol(DOT)com

  5. Would like to hear more about this one. Thanks for the post

  6. This book looks so great! I can only imagine how long it must have taken you to put this whole event together.

    chelle2006 @ aol.com

  7. I definitely want to read - ok now that was just crreepers
    tlabunski ((gmail))**

  8. Thanks for the great giveaway!


  9. Very creepy post! I felt like I was back in one of my favorite classes learning about a time long gone.


  10. OH! This book sounds awesome! Thank so much for the story! I'm born and raised in Omaha, NE and I was thrilled to read a story based here :)


  11. Another great post!


  12. I agree with the above statement! I keep hearing great things about this book :)


  13. Great story and Ashfall sounds amazing! I also have to admit to getting all excited when I read the words "Big Bluestem" because it was one of the prairie plants in my senior field research project in college. I guess I'm easily amused.

    AmethystDaydreams at zoho dot com

  14. Dun dun dun dun! Very creepy!


  15. O.O Creepy amazing story and Ashfall sounds so good.

    lilyflower999 (at) gmail (dot) com

  16. What a great story! And I just happen to already have a signed copy of Ashfall, so I won't enter. Hoping to crack it open this weekend...if the family actually lets me! Can't wait!

  17. Creepy story! I hope Ashfall is just as great.

  18. Totally gave me goosebumps!


  19. It is a great book. Want to share it with my daughter. You can stop by my post today also related to Ashfall.


  20. Very creepy post. It reads like an urban myth. :)


  21. That is so sad and creepy! :( I'm speechless.


  22. Mary DeBorde
    zenrei57 (at) hotmail dot com

    LOVED Ashfall!!! Hurry up with #2 already hehe ;D

  23. A truly haunting story. As has been said many times above, Ashfall sounds awesome. Yellowstone is one of my favorite places. What a fantastic setting for such a tale.
    Thanks for the giveaway!


  24. What a hauntingly fabulous story, thank you for sharing this with us and for this awesome giveaway! :)

    Suz @ A Soul Unsung

  25. Thanks for another great post! I'm so glad this book has finally come out- I've been hearing about it for ages:)

    bchild5 at aol dot com


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