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  • Susan Stoderl

Experiment | Prairie Dust, Chapter 1, Excerpt 3

Experimental Novel in Serial Form
Prairie Dust, Chapter 1, Excerpt 3

As he wiped the remaining soap from his rough, scraped face, Jim pondered the weakness of some folks. He would never even entertain selling out like the previous owner. Jim had plenty of hard cash in the bank. That should persuade many of his neighbors to sell. He’d spin a good yarn about how selling at a good price benefited both parties. His effective use of the land served as a balm for buyers’ indebtedness and loneliness. Jim intended to make quick buyouts.

He slicked back his slightly salted dark hair. He struggled to insert the mother-of-pearl collar buttons into the new stiff collar. Jim always fell between sizes because of his broad chest. He’d learned to try on any shirt before buying it. Jim caught the young shop assistant admiring his image in the mirror, just like Flora had once.

Jim’s stomach acid churned when he imagined Flora’s face turning sour when she learned there would be no spacious two-story, white-frame house built awaiting her arrival. Something he had hinted at when leaving Ohio for Colorado. Flora would bolt if they were still in the dugout. He could picture a cow crashing through the ceiling onto the kitchen table, or a rattlesnake as her bedmate.

At a minimum, he would need to build a solid soddie before fall—sixteen by twenty feet, plank floors, and plastered walls. Knowing this had forced him to call upon his deep reservoir of charisma while writing to her earlier. Provided Flora didn’t arrive until mid-October, he could see that the soddie was in good shape. The boys could live in the present dugout until they could build a proper house that Flora would covet. With a house raising and good hired hands, they could complete that house within the year.

Jim buttoned the body-hugging vest and slipped on his jacket, tweaking his tie in front of the single small mirror hanging by the side of the stove. He tugged on his good boots over his calloused fee. Grabbing the letter to Flora off the table, he whistled to himself as he tied the tarp closed. Tonight he would begin getting the lay of the land to build his new empire.

Louie watched Jim hurry toward the lean-to barn where his buggy was waiting from a crack in the barn. He quickly ducked behind a large stack of hay bales. Jim went over to Lightning’s stall with the chest strap. Jim rubbed Lightning’s neck before leading him to where the carriage waited. He put the strap in place. Next came the saddle and breeching. After buckling the traces onto the breast strap, he placed the bridle over the horse’s head, connected the reins, and hooked the horse to the carriage.

Leading the horse out and closing the door, Jim noticed something behind the hay. He knew exactly what it was. Louie! That was a problem for another day.

Jim leaped into the carriage seat like a much younger man. As he pulled out to the main road, his thoughts turned to a certain junior clerk in the dry goods store. Perhaps she’d need a ride home. His custom burgundy colored carriage seat seemed to be a hit with the ladies.

© 2024, Susan Stoderl, All Rights Reserved.


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