Making Tracks: A Dru Gumshoe Mystery
Take a trip to Gates of the Arctic, with Dru Gumshoe, to track down an inter-dimensional creature who just might be the real Bigfoot! This new Middle-Grade mystery series is inspired by the author's favorite young detective and a celebration of national parks.
Release date: July 20, 2021
Publisher: Citizen Author
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Making Tracks: A Dru Gumshoe Mystery
S.L. Stone / Summer Lopez
Making Tracks: A Dru Gumshoe Mystery
Chapter 1 - The Oasis
On the morning we leave the oasis, the morning that we leave New Mexico, there is no final straw. Nothing new went wrong in a world that has not already gone so super wrong. Our exit is a planned escape.
My mom got a gig as a glaciologist with the National Park Service. I count down the days until the big X on the silly cat calendar in Gran's kitchen, until we move three thousand miles to Alaskan wilderness.
New Year's Eve is when my mom, Golden, first talked about leaving the oasis. We were playing our version of Monopoly around Gran's giant red table. Basically, it's the opposite of the official rulebook. My family plays so everybody shares the properties and the bank. The game's over when we're all rich. (Golden and Gran don't let me use words like winner or loser, but they let me swear if I need to.)
Not every family makes their own rules, though. Like, Gilly's dad called our rules "Commie-opoly," and I wasn't allowed to go over to Gilly's house for a minute.
I stacked hotels on the blue game squares for Park Place and Boardwalk. Gran put on her favorite album, Saturday Night Fever. The BeeGees were not my favorite, but Gran stanned their disco tracks. (The words of the songs don't make sense, I mean. What even is more than a woman?)
Anyway, I was just about to roll again, and move my shoe playing piece across GO to collect two hundred dollars. Golden set an envelope in the center of the table. The return address glittered in the light above us. Its sparkle told me inside that envelope was pure magic.
My whole life, Golden was a visiting professor. She traveled to universities around the world. She studied and taught future scientists about climate disaster. I stayed put with Gran at the oasis. That's what we call the chain of rooms all connected under one roof.
Gran built the oasis, little by little, with the retirement check she received from the FBI. She worked there as a secretary during the Korean War, which I can't even believe. The rocky, dry land is twenty miles away from Taos. It belonged to Gran's third husband, Hank before he died. She used to call Hank a rustler on the hustle, whatever that means.
Golden was born at the oasis back when our round living room was the only place standing. I was born there too. By then, Gran had added the kitchen on, plus a greenhouse and a library and a bathroom. She wanted a family home sustained by the environment.
"Nature is not a fad," Gran says at least once a day.
Unfortunately, not too many folks followed in my family's footsteps. I was the only kid I knew who grew the food I ate. Once I tried to explain compost to my BFF Gilly. She wrinkled her nose and said, "Ewwwwwww" before I got to the poop part.
I pushed away the Monopoly board. Golden read us her job offer from the U.S. Department of Interior. I switched seats to look over my mom's shoulder at the letter. There it was, printed in black and white. An opening for a field study, located in the most remote of all America's national parks: Gates of the Arctic. Gran's face fell. Mine lit up.
I flung myself across the room to the bookcase with all our atlases and maps. I grabbed my favorite globe, the one without countries or capitals. It only shows natural wonders and wilderness boundaries. My finger traced from the Southwest all the way up the North American continent. I landed on rough mountain ridges and smooth ice that went on forever.
"This is my country, why should I leave?" Gran demanded. She wasn't mad at my mom. What got Gran's goat, she said, were the folks who turned America into a place she didn't recognize. A place where love stopped mattering.
"Gran, we'll still be in the United States, don't worry!" I showed her a section of the AuthaGraph that Golden got me. An AuthaGraph is a new way of looking at the world map. On it, Africa is the largest continent, and all of Antartica fits too. Golden thinks the biggest plus of homeschool is me never seeing the map taught in classrooms.
"The kid's not wrong,” my mom agreed. "We will vote and pay taxes, but living in a National Park means we live by federal not state law. Kind of on our own. Sounds good to me right about now."
My mom believes humans are already extinct anyway. Why wait out the last years of the planet with the people letting climate disaster happen? But, Gran felt it was our duty not to leave behind Americans who don't have the same chance as us to make a difference. Golden was not absolutely wrong, and Gran was not one hundred percent right. For me it came down to one thing. Where would our family survive the longest?
Even though I'm a kid, my voice counts when family decisions get made. I appreciate that, but I hardly ever give my opinion. I am happy to go with the flow, to let the grown-ups figure out the tough stuff. New Year's Eve changed all that. That night, I used my voice with no second thoughts. "I'm in!"
I slapped my hand down in the center of the Monopoly board, covering the pile of Free Parking cash. Golden hooted in victory, then covered my hand with hers. We both looked at Gran, waiting for her answer. Obviously we would not leave her behind. If she wasn't up to the adventure, none of us would go.
Gran twisted the tip of her long silver braid around a finger, biting her lip. This was how Gran thought things through. Finally, she sighed and smiled. Her palm landed on Golden's. I added another, and then Golden another, and finally Gran's other hand topped the pile. We three giggled, and I knew it was official when Gran crowed, "Let's do this darn thing!"
For six months, we wait out weather restrictions on travel in northern Alaska. Those months are full of preparation. We shut down the solar grid, and seal every crack where desert might pry into the oasis. Then all the sudden it's time to pack, and the move gets real.
We are each allowed 55 pounds of stuff to bring to the cabin waiting for our arrival. It's a funny thing, deciding which items make the cut and which things we're leaving behind.
Everything Golden packs is waterproof. She bags books and files and basic tools for her field study. Gran brings a patchwork quilt stitched during the Civil War, and a cookbook stuffed with family recipes.
Me, I'm trying to engineer a way so Gilly fits in my luggage and comes along for the ride. I only have one friend in the entire world and she is literally the best. Gilly could not be more opposite of me. She wears pastel outfits that match, I don't wear the same two socks to make a pair. Her blonde hair is kept in a neat ponytail with a ribbon, I let mine grow into a tangle of brown curls.
The biggest difference between us is this, though: Gilly checks the box next to "female" and I don't. Gran and Golden believe in people not boxes, so I see myself not as a girl or a boy.
Until I met Gilly, one day we both happened to be exploring an abandoned pueblo, I never realized girls and boys were different. None of that stuff mattered to me. And if Gilly cares I don't check a box, she never lets on.
I am just Dru, another kid who loves a good mystery, like her. Gilly even gave me a nickname, Gumshoe, which is an old-fashioned way of saying detective.
The morning we leave, Gilly brings a gift to say goodbye. She waits to give it to me until we are alone, and as soon as I open it I see why. It's a brand new smart phone, loaded with a bunch of apps, so we can always keep in touch. "We can still crack cases together even when we're so far apart!"
All screens large and small are banned at the oasis. I stopped complaining about it, when Gran seriously suggested I use smoke signals to communicate with Gilly instead. "Thank you!" I hug Gilly so tight she squeaks like a stuffed toy.
"My screen name is GillyTheGreat, don't forget."
I wouldn't forget or get caught, I promised, even though I wasn't sure what to do with the smart phone yet. Part of me wondered how safe it is to completely disconnect from the rest of the world, especially in a place as isolated as Gates of the Arctic. But part of me was afraid to hold on to a life in a world where my family wasn't welcome.
"I guess this is it," I mutter, wandering through the oasis one last time after Gilly tearfully takes off on her bike. I want to remember looking out across the vast Southwestern sandscape. I already miss the cozy fireplace, where my sleeping bag and a good book always waited.
Even though my family isn't exactly on the run, I know we won't be back any time soon. If, and when, we return who knew what we'd find at the oasis?
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