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The Adventures of Flash Jackson

A Novel

The Adventures of Flash Jackson by William Kowalski
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Haley Bombauer, aka Flash Jackson, confronts the summer of her seventeenth year with glorious anticipation. She envisions herself roaming the hillsides and forests on her beloved horse, venturing farther and farther away from her sleepy hometown and her overprotective mother.

But when Haley falls through the rotted roof of the barn, she is destined to spend the summer in a thigh-high cast, stuck at home with her mother, enduring visits from her spooky grandmother, and pondering the error of her impulsive ways. The year that follows will, in fact, transform not only her life but also the lives of those around her.

Set in Mannville, New York, William Kowalski's signature town, here is the story of one young woman's emergence into a world that, in her words, "was not designed with girls in mind" and her efforts to find a way to fit in without giving up her independence.

HarperCollins; June 2009
336 pages; ISBN 9780061951152
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Title: The Adventures of Flash Jackson
Author: William Kowalski

Chapter One

Off the Barn

On my very last day of being sixteen years old, I fell through the roof of our barn like a stone through ice and broke my leg in three places. Don't ask what I was doing up there to begin with -- I couldn't give you a straight answer. It had never entered my head to go up there before. I was just in a roof-climbing kind of mood, I guess -- the kind of mood that can overtake a farm girl sometimes on a hot July day, when she's bored out of her mind and thinking that if something wonderful and glamorous and exciting doesn't happen to her immediately, right that minute, she's going to go crazy. Like I said, it was my last day of being sixteen, and I guess I was feeling my oats a little. That's the only way I know how to explain it. Even a half-wit like my neighbor Frankie Grunveldt would have known better than to climb that barn. My great-great-grandfather built it about a thousand years ago, and the passage of time had turned it into one of those ancient, leaning weathered things that tourists and Sunday drivers think are so wonderful and quaint, but are really only eyesores and death traps.

I was still in my good clothes. It was one of those rare Sundays when Mother had insisted I go to church with her. She got that particular bug up her butt about three times a year. I fought her hard on it, but she always won. Church was the one and only reason in the world I would wear a skirt. I had to, or Mother got upset. I think she had skirts and salvation kind of mixed up in her mind -- you couldn't get one if you weren't wearing the other, at least if you were a girl. I had compromised by wearing my ratty old canvas high-tops, the most comfortable things I owned. I never wore socks. I was always taking off my sneakers, tree climbing being an art best performed barefoot, and socks just had to be balled up and stuffed somewhere. One time I stuck them in my bra and forgot they were there. That got me a lecture, I can tell you -- but not the kind you might expect. Mother said, "If you're going to stuff yourself, young lady, at least do it in a way that won't let the whole world know you're doing it."

That's Mother for you. I guess she was relieved, thinking maybe I was trying to catch the eye of some slack-mouthed idiot of a farm boy. She had pretty much given up on me becoming a normal girl, but occasionally she was still given to flashes of hope -- or random moments of insanity, as I prefer to think of them. Well, she had another think coming, as they say. I wasn't interested in farm boys, with their ropelike arms and their beetle brows. I wasn't interested in any boys. I was just interested in being me, whatever that entailed. If that happened to involve a boy, okay. If not, I wasn't going to shed any tears.

Climbing trees is hard work, and according to Mother it's not very ladylike, but neither of those things have ever posed much of an obstacle to me. I like getting a little sweaty, and there isn't a tree within two miles of our place I haven't climbed at least once. None of them seemed as challenging as our barn. Yet once I got up on the lower branches I swung across to the overhanging roof, and that was it. I was up.

I crawled up the roof on all fours until I arrived at the peak, where the weather vane that looked like a bear had kept watch since the barn was erected. I couldn't remember a time when it hadn't been rusted in place. I decided I was going to get that weather vane pointing right again. I worked it around until it creaked free, and I spit into the socket a couple of times until it moved without screeching. Then, feeling mighty satisfied with myself, I stood up and took a look around.

From that distance I could just see the town of Mannville, founded first as Clare Town sometime in the early 1800s, then renamed after our Great Benefactor, the Almighty William Amos Mann, Hero of the Civil War, a raggedy old bastard we all had to learn about in school. Mannville at that distance was a few rooftops and a church spire. I could also see Lake Erie, a thin blue smudge that hung over the town like smoke. My last conscious preaccident memory is that I'd finally managed to accomplish something interesting and useful in my life by getting up higher in the world than ever before, when damned if the roof didn't give way and I woke up later that afternoon in the hospital.

That's life, my father would've said. You can work and work to get to the top, but you still never know when everything is going to collapse under you.

I don't remember falling, which I guess is probably a good thing. Otherwise, I might have come out of the whole mess with a fear of heights. I'd never been afraid of heights before, you see, so it would have been a real shame if I'd started then. Oh yes: my name is Haley Bombauer, I am now twenty-something years old (not to be rude, but I'm already getting to the age where it's none of your business) and I'm not afraid of a blessed thing on this earth, no man or woman or beast or barn. Well -- actually -- I do admit snakes make me squeamish ...

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