I get to lead off the series with the first book, which is titled Shane's Burden. It goes live on May 18, 2017!
The stories center around citizens of the town of Burnt River, Montana (a fictional town near Deer Lodge, Montana), many of whom were friends in high school. It's now a decade after high school, and they've come together for the memorial of a beloved high school teacher, who influenced or made some kind of impact in their lives.
Each author is currently committed to writing three books each. The first set of five books will be published at two-week intervals, and then it goes to every three weeks, until we have a total of 15 books.
To introduce you to the series, here is the prologue to Shane's Burden.
Burnt River, Montana . . . February 2006
Shane Taggart stuffed his books in his tattered backpack, then slammed his locker shut. He tossed the pack over his shoulder and lumbered down the hall, ignoring the kids he passed. His focus was on the door that led out of the building.
Someone bumped into him, nearly knocking the heavy backpack from his shoulders. Shane yelled out an expletive and raised his middle finger at Landon Clark, who ran up the hall as if he hadn’t even noticed.
“Hey, are you going skiing this weekend, Shane?”
Shane glanced over his shoulder. Three of his football teammates stood huddled by one of their lockers. Jerry, the one who’d called out the question, waved him over. The other two stood with their heads together, mumbling something while looking directly at him. As if it wasn’t obvious enough they were talking about him.
Shane shook his head. He didn’t bother going over to them. “Got stuff to do at home,” he called, then turned and continued on his way.
He’d probably be the first to the truck, but Mason had the keys. No doubt they’d both have to wait for Raine, who liked to hang out after school and chit-chat with her girlfriends.
A classroom door swung open and he barely missed getting smacked in the face by it. In his effort to side-step out of the way, he almost collided with the short, chubby blonde carrying a stack of books. Her mouth formed an “O” and her eyes opened even wider than they looked behind her dark-rimmed glasses. Those glasses really looked ridiculous.
“Watch out,” Shane grumbled, giving her his best scowly-faced look to make it clear he was annoyed. All he wanted was to get out of the building.
The girl mumbled something. It sounded like “sorry” but she dropped her head to avoid further eye contact, and with dozens of other kids heading down the hall, too, the noise around him drowned out what she said.
Shane smirked, then moved around her. She was in several of his classes, although she was only a freshman, like his sister. Allison Kravitz or Cramer, or something like that, one of those over-achievers who went to school because it was fun. A boy and another girl flanked her, all of them carrying stacks of books. The nerds club must be holding a meeting after school. They clearly had no other social life.
He skirted around the trio without a further glance, but had barely taken three steps when someone threw their arm around his shoulder.
“Hey, Shane.” Boone Macklin fell in step beside him, a wide grin on his face. “What did you do this time?”
Shane scrunched his forehead at his friend.
“Mr. Weiker wants to see you,” Boone clarified. “I just passed him upstairs. He said if I saw you before you left, to tell you to come to his classroom.”
Shane shrugged. “So, tell him you didn’t see me.”
Boone laughed. “You might as well get it over with, or he’ll catch you tomorrow. And he’ll know we were lying to him. He always knows. I swear that man can read minds.”
Shane cursed under his breath. The last thing he needed at the moment was a lecture from his biology teacher, getting grilled about why he hadn’t turned in his last assignments. He already had a good idea what grade he’d gotten on today’s test. He couldn’t care less about oxidation-reduction reactions and metabolism. His twin brother, Mason, wanted to be a veterinarian, so biology was something he enjoyed and was good at. Shane would be running a horse ranch, and that didn’t require knowledge of all that stupid science stuff.
“Fine, I’ll get it over with,” Shane grumbled. “Can you tell Raine and Mason where I am? I shouldn’t be too long. They’ll be waiting by our truck.”
“Mr. Weiker’s cool, but good luck, anyway.” Boone slapped his back in a good-natured gesture before he continued on his way to freedom from school for another day.
Shane turned around. He sped up to reach the stairwell leading to the second story and took the steps two at a time. He passed the chubby girl with all the books, but he didn’t acknowledge her this time, either.
He entered Mr. Weiker’s classroom, scrunching his nose at the disgusting smell of formaldehyde that always lingered in the air in this room. Glass jars lined the counter, filled with all sorts of gross things, from pig hearts, to a preserved cat, worms, a fetal pig, and other body parts he couldn’t even name. The lab tables were clean and cleared of any test tubes, beakers, or dissecting kits, for once.
Mike Weiker sat at his desk at the front of the room. He looked up over his wire-rimmed glasses when Shane entered. He smiled and stood from his seat.
“Shane Taggart, just the man I want to see.”
Shane rolled his eyes. Weiker acted as if he was surprised at the visit.
“Boone Macklin told me you wanted to see me.” He didn’t have time to play these games adults liked to play. Weiker was just a teacher, and there was no reason why he should be asking to see him after school when he clearly wasn’t serving detention.
“My brother and sister are waiting for me out in the car, and I’m sure it’s pretty cold out there.” Shane looked out the window to make his point. Snow flurries drifted through the sky.
“I won’t keep you long, Shane. I just wanted a private word with you. I know you’ve been having a rough time lately.”
Shane stared. No lecture about his failing grades? No doubt it was coming any second. Weiker held out his hand, indicating for Shane to sit in the chair next to him. With another smirk and a sigh, Shane dropped his backpack to the ground and slumped into the chair.
“With the death of your father last month, I can’t even imagine how you must be feeling. How is your mother doing?”
Shane’s mind went blank. Mr. Weiker’s words brought back memories of that awful day six weeks ago. His father had just finished lunch on a Saturday afternoon. He’d complained that he wasn’t feeling well, but he’d gone to the barns anyway to check on one of the mares that looked to be the first one of the year to drop a foal.
Shane had followed him. On the way down the path, his father had let out a moan, clutched at his chest, then dropped to the snow-packed ground.
Shane blinked, closing his eyes momentarily. When would the images that haunted him go away? He’d landed on his knees beside his father, then run back to the house, screaming for his mother, for Mason, for anyone within hearing distance. Mason hadn’t been home, but at his part-time job at the vet clinic in town.
His mother had rushed out of the house to his father, while Shane had called 9-1-1. The ambulance had arrived too late. While the EMTs tried everything, Shane’s father had been pronounced dead at the hospital. Massive heart attack. He’d never even had any symptoms of heart trouble. None that Shane had been aware of, anyway. Alex Taggart had always proclaimed he was healthy as a horse.
“Any time you want to talk, my door is always open.”
Shane stared blankly at Mr. Weiker, who looked at him with sincerity in his eyes. At the moment, he wasn’t a teacher, but someone who’d seen through the anguish and the things Shane kept bottled up inside.
“My mother’s doing all right. She’s trying to keep the ranch going . . . keep my father’s dreams alive,” he mumbled. “I’m trying to help as much as I can.”
Mr. Weiker nodded. “I’m sure she appreciates it.” He paused, then said, almost reluctantly, “But I’m sure she doesn’t want you to neglect your studies.”
Finally, they were coming around to the real reason for the talk. Shane was ready.
“I’m going to run my family’s ranch someday. I don’t need all this stupid school stuff.”
Mr. Weiker shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not.” He chuckled. “I don’t remember most of the subjects I was forced to learn in high school, either.”
Shane stared up at him. The teacher smiled.
“I liked the life sciences, and that’s what I concentrated on. I think your brother, Mason, is heading in that direction, too.”
“He wants to be a veterinarian.”
“Good profession. Lots of schooling and dedication.”
“My father encouraged it.”
“I bet your father also encouraged hard work and perseverance in you, too.”
Shane nodded. He gnashed his teeth. He wasn’t going to start bawling like a little kid in front of Mr. Weiker. The teacher reclined in his chair and casually crossed his legs.
“School isn’t about liking all the subjects you take, Shane. It’s about getting ready for life. It’s tough out there. You have to learn how to become disciplined. How to start a task and finish it. That’s what school is really all about. Even on the ranch, I’m sure there are chores you like more than others, but you do them all because they need to get done. Am I right?”
Again, Shane nodded. This was not the conversation he’d envisioned. His father had often said similar things.
“School’s about building character, about finishing that task because you have an obligation to yourself - and not to anyone else - to finish it, regardless of how tedious or difficult it might be.”
Mr. Weiker paused. Shane waited. He glanced out the window at the snow that kept falling steadily. He shifted in his chair, making it squeak.
“You’re a bright kid, Shane. I’d hate to see you fail.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.” Shane stood and grabbed his backpack. “If there’s nothing else, I really need to be going.”
“Thanks for stopping by. I just want you to ask yourself this one question.” Mr. Weiker waited until Shane looked up. “Do you just quit and toss in the towel, or do you continue despite adversity and insurmountable odds?”
“I’ll think about it,” Shane said, because it’s what the teacher wanted to hear. Mr. Weiker nodded.
“I meant what I said, Shane. My door is always open.”
Mr. Weiker held out his hand. Shane stared at it for a moment, then shook it. There was something weird about a teacher offering to shake hands. He pulled his hand free after a quick squeeze.
Shane turned and walked out of the classroom, closing the door behind him with a loud click.
© Peggy L Henderson 2017
No parts of this excerpt may be copied or reproduced in any form without permission