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An anthology of traditional and contemporary western short stories where the characters are lain bare.

Feel the pain of a young Japanese girl who comes home from an internment camp after World War II and learns it’s easier to go with the flow than to fight the current.


Struggle with an expectant mother on the cold winter prairie while she waits for her husband to come home from a hunting trip.


Journey with a young woman to the Four Corners as she tries to connect with her Navajo ancestors.


Try not to believe in the superstition of the blue moon—if one dies, three more will follow.


Know that one way or another, life will change inalterably that day.


Walk in the footsteps of an old cowpoke who thought he made the deal of a lifetime.


Suffer the torments of a young lady who wants desperately to marry but seems destined never to wed.


Walk the wild western paths and run from unimaginable dangers.


Choose between an unhappy life of luxury or a happy life of simplicity.


Nine female authors pen western tales that you’ll want to retell around a campfire. These aren’t your granddaddy’s westerns. They’re the next generation’s, and they’re darn good.


PublisherAIW Press
Release dateMay 13, 2016
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Jan Morrill

Jan Morrill’s award-winning short stories and memoir essays have been published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books and several anthologies. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her short story "Xs and Os," which appeared in the Voices Anthology. She recently completed her first novel, Broken Dolls, a historical fiction and is now on the journey toward publication. Her two children grown, Jan lives on a farm in the United States with her husband, two dogs and two cats -- that is, when she's not getting new story ideas while on a new adventure somewhere else in the world! For more information, visit her website at www.janmorrill.com.

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    Book preview

    Unshod - Jan Morrill


    An Anthology

    of Traditional and Contemporary

    Western Short Stories

    Copyright © 2016 AIW Press

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the express written consent of the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

    AIW Press, LLC

    Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania


    All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, and not intended by the author.

    ISBN-13: 978-1-944938-03-1

    Maybe it’s easier to go with the flow

    than to fight the current.

    Floating Home


    Jan Morrill

    Life is a river

    Shall I fight the current or

    Let go and float home

    Papa removed his hat and leaned into the cab window. Can you take us to First and San Pedro? he asked.

    Sure. Get in. The cab driver snuffed his cigarette in the ashtray before getting out to open the trunk. Papa tossed in our suitcases, then took the front seat. Mama and I scooted into the back.

    Why didn’t Papa give him the address to our house? I whispered.

    She put her finger to her mouth. Shhh!

    She’d been doing that a lot lately. Mama and Papa had both kept secrets on our journey back to California from the internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas. Why, I didn’t know, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’d just turned fourteen, old enough to know what was going on.

    I turned away so Mama wouldn’t see me roll my eyes and stared out the cab window at all the things I’d missed about California. Camp had been a dull place, surrounded by cotton fields in the middle of nowhere. We’d planted petunias and marigolds to try to brighten things up, but there was only so much we could do to improve a barbed-wire camp filled with black tarpaper barracks.

    Outside the taxi window, the mountains I’d missed surrounded me like an embrace, welcoming me home. While in camp, I realized I’d taken so much for granted about home—the sound and scent of the ocean on a Saturday afternoon, the cry of a seagull, the twinkling lights of Los Angeles. A car sped by. I’d even missed the traffic.

    A soft clicking noise drew my attention from the world that passed by outside. The sound came from Mama’s side of the cab, and I turned toward it. She was counting o-juzu beads, one by one over her fingers. Why was she praying? Wasn’t the worst over now that we were home?

    First and San Pedro, said the driver, staring at me in the rear view mirror. Where do you want to get out?

    On the corner is fine, Papa replied. He handed the whisker-faced man his fare while Mama and I got out of the cab.

    Everything looked different. I’d changed a lot in three years, but somehow I’d expected our home town to look the same. Where was Fugetsu-do? In camp, my mouth had watered for the sweet taste, the gooey feel of omanju on my tongue. I couldn’t wait to eat so much my stomach would hurt. But the shop was gone.

    And where were all the Japanese signs? I wondered why it even mattered to me—I couldn’t read what they said anyway. Still, they were part of what made Sho-Tokyo home, especially for my parents.

    Papa adjusted his hat before picking up three suitcases. Follow me.

    Mama grabbed two bags, which left one for me to carry.

    After a short walk, Papa set his suitcases down under the Civic Hotel sign and whispered something in Japanese to Mama—another secret.

    She dropped her suitcases and sat on one. Papa said to wait here.

    I thought about asking her why we were at a hotel, but decided she’d just tell me to shhh again.

    About ten minutes later, Papa returned and told us he’d gotten a room.

    A room? Here? I whined. Why aren’t we staying in our house?

    Mari, please! Mama scolded.

    Papa touched her shoulder. Haruko, it’s time we tell her. Mari, I’ll explain everything to you when we get to the room. He took a deep breath before confessing, We’re on the third floor.

    I didn’t complain about the stairs, though I was tempted.

    One step at a time, Mariko-chan. I swore there were times Papa could read my mind.

    On the third floor, Papa inserted the key into the knob. I followed Mama into a dimly lit room that smelled faintly of bleach. It was better than our camp apartment, but I was not at all happy about the two beds in the center of the room. For three years I’d shared a single room with my parents and couldn’t wait to have my own bedroom again. I huffed and dropped my bag onto the maroon carpet.

    Papa pointed at a bed. Mari, sit there, and we’ll talk.

    I skimmed my hand over the white chenille and remembered my soft, yellow bedspread from home.

    Putting his hands in his pockets, Papa asked, "Do you know what kawa no nagare means?"

    I shook my head. No.

    The flow of a river, he said, long and slow, as if I might not understand English either. He often took the long way around with his stories and sometimes I didn’t get it until the very end. So, I waited for more, feeling rather like a dog tugging at its leash to get to the park ahead of its master.

    Life is like a river, Mariko-chan. And though the flow of a river does not cease, the water is never the same.

    I don’t understand, Papa.

    Even if you return to the exact spot on the bank of a river, the water there will not be the same. And sometimes we expect a river will flow one way, but instead, it takes a different tributary. We must go with the flow of the ever-changing water.

    I wasn’t so sure I liked what he was trying to tell me.

    He paced the floor as he spoke. You expected to return to the home we left, as did I. He paused and took a deep breath. Shortly before we left Rohwer, I received a letter from our neighbor, Mr. Patterson. He told me our house had been rented to another family.

    What? But that’s our house, I complained, unable to imagine another family living in our house. A shiver crept over me—probably the same one I’d felt when I discovered a girl in camp reading my journal.

    Papa paused and stared out the window. What was he thinking about the city below us?

    It wasn’t really our house, he continued. Only a rental. When we left, the owner leased it to another family. You see? The river took a turn. There’s nothing to be done but float in its current. We’ll find another place to live.

    You mean . . . here? I asked, anger rising inside me. We’d been floating with the current for three years. I was tired of it, tired of going where we were told, living where we didn’t want to live. But Papa, I want to go home, I argued.

    We’ll find another house. He furrowed his brow at me. "But perhaps you should try to remember that we are more fortunate than many of our friends. At least The Rafu Shimpo will go into circulation again, and I’ll have the same job I had before the war. Some who have returned don’t know what they’ll do for work."

    I didn’t want to admit it, but maybe he was right. At least a little bit. Not only did Papa have a job, we’d also been lucky to stay together in camp. Many families had been separated. Most of all, we hadn’t lost anyone in the war. I could still hear the cries of those in camp who learned their sons or brothers would not be coming home.

    I gave in, reluctantly. Maybe it’s easier to go with the flow than to fight the current.

    Papa’s eyes crinkled—the best part of his smile. Yes, Mariko-chan. And remember, too, the water is never the same.

    # # #

    A few days later, after Papa left for work and Mama left to run errands, I decided to walk to our old house. True, it wasn’t ours anymore, but I saw no harm in saying goodbye before floating down the river to whatever was next.

    I turned onto our street. As with San Pedro, I was surprised at how it had changed. Maybe everything only seemed different because of how I’d longed for home while in camp. Had I remembered the well-groomed lawns greener than they actually had been? And did the houses seem to need a new coat of paint, only because I remembered their colors more vibrant as I stared at gloomy black barracks?

    Walking the same sidewalk I’d walked a thousand times before, I recalled Papa taking me to the park, when I’d skipped to keep up and took care not to step on any cracks. I smiled, realizing that part hadn’t changed. Even at fourteen, I found myself stepping over cracks to avoid bad luck.

    The passage of time felt greatest when I stared up into the sun-splashed trees that lined the street, their branches higher, their trunks thicker. The autumn before we were sent away, I’d chased their fallen leaves down the street on my way to the bus stop. Three months later, Pearl Harbor was attacked and our world changed forever.

    It hadn’t mattered that I’d avoided all those cracks.

    As I approached the house that wasn’t ours anymore, a strange and unexpected worry settled like a stone in my stomach. I wanted it to look just the same, but what if it didn’t? What about the family who lived there? Had they taken care of Papa’s plum tree in the front yard?

    Then, there it was. My house. With the same driveway and the same plum tree, now in full bloom with pink blossoms. The lawn was greener than most, but not as green as I remembered. I stared at the front door and remembered Mama standing there in the apron she wore every day, reminding Papa to stop at the butcher after work.

    My gaze drifted to my bedroom window, just to the left of the big front porch. My bed with the yellow chenille bedspread used to be under that window, where, when the moon was full, I’d open the blinds and hold my arms in the striped moonlight. When it rained, I’d watch droplets of water race each other to the bottom of the window pane.

    Can I help you?

    The voice ripped me from sweet memories of my past and back to the scraps of my present. I turned toward the porch.

    A black girl sat in the porch swing. A black girl. Was that who lived in my house?

    The familiar, sad squawk of the swing, back and forth, drew me instantly back to my past, until she spoke again. I said, can I help you?

    I had the urge to hide, like a prowler caught in the act. What could I say? Yet, I had to answer, so blurted, Uh, no. That’s okay.

    She rose and the swing continued its mournful song as she walked down the steps, slowly, like she, too, thought I was as creepy as I felt. Mind if I ask why you’re staring at our house then?

    My heart pounded, as if nailing a lid on any excuse for why I’d be standing in

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