<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>THE FORTHRAST FARM<br> Northwest Iowa<br> Thanksgiving</b><br> Richard kept his head down. Not all those cow pies were frozen,<br> and the ones that were could turn an ankle. He’d limited his <br> baggage to a carry on, so the size 11's weaving their way among <br> the green brown mounds were meshy black cross-trainers that you <br> could practically fold in half and stuff into a pocket. He could have <br> gone to Walmart this morning and bought boots. The reunion, <br> however, would have noticed, and made much of, such an extravagance.<br> Two dozen of his relatives were strung out in clumps along the <br> barbed-wire fence to his right, shooting into the ravine or reloading. <br> The tradition had started as a way for some of the younger boys to <br> blow off steam during the torturous wait for turkey and pie. In the <br> old days, once they’d gotten back to Grandpa’s house from Thanksgiving<br> church service and changed out of their miniature coats and <br> ties, they would burst out the doors and sprint half a mile across the <br> pasture, trailed by a few older men to make sure that matters didn’t <br> get out of hand, and shoot .22s and Daisies down into the crick. <br> Now grown up with kids of their own, they showed up for the reunion <br> with shotguns, hunting rifles, and handguns in the backs of their <br> The fence was rusty, but its posts of Osage orange wood were <br> unrotted. Richard and John, his older brother, had put it up forty <br> years ago to keep livestock from straying down into the crick. The <br> stream was narrow enough that a grown man could cross it with a <br> stride, but cattle were not made for striding, or bred for intelligence, <br> and could always contrive some way to get themselves into terrible <br> straits along its steep, crumbling banks. The same feature made it <br> an ideal firing range. Summer had been dry and autumn cold, so the <br> crick was running low under a paper-thin glaze of ice, and the bank <br> above it threw up gouts of loose dirt wherever it stopped a bullet. <br> This made it easy for the shooters to correct their aim. Through his <br> ear protectors, Richard could hear the voices of helpful onlookers: <br> “You’re about three inches low. Six inches to the right.” The boom <br> of the shotguns, the snap of the .22s, and the pow, pow, pow of the <br> semiautomatic handguns were reduced to a faint patter by the <br> electronics in the hearing protectors—hard-shell earmuffs with volume <br> knobs sticking out of them—which he’d stuffed into his bag yesterday,<br> almost as an afterthought.<br> He kept flinching. The low sun shone in the face of a two hundred <br> foot tall wind turbine in the field across the crick, and its blades cast <br> long scything shadows over them. He kept sensing the sudden onrush <br> of a bar of darkness that flicked over him without effect and went on <br> its way to be followed by another and another. The sun above blinking<br> on and off with each cut of a blade. This was all new. In his younger <br> days, it had only been the grain elevators that proved the existence <br> of a world beyond the horizon; but now they had been supplanted <br> and humbled by these pharaonic towers rearing their heads above <br> the prairie, the only thing about this landscape that had ever been <br> capable of inspiring awe. Something about their being in motion, in a <br> place where everything else was almost pathologically still, seized the <br> attention; they always seemed to be jumping out at you from behind <br> corners.<br> Despite the wind, the small muscles of his face and scalp—the <br> parents of headaches—were relaxed for the first time since he had <br> come back to Iowa. When he was in the public spaces of the reunion,<br> the lobby of the Ramada, the farmhouse, the football game in the <br> side yard—he always felt that all eyes were on him. It was different <br> here, where one had to attend to one’s weapons, to make sure that <br> the barrels were always pointed across the barbed wire. When Richard<br> was seen, it was during terse, one-on-one conversations, spoken <br> DIS-TINCT-LY through ear protection.<br> Younger relations, rookie in-laws, and shirttails called him Dick, <br> a name that Richard had never used because of its association, in his <br> youth, with Nixon. He would answer to Richard or to the nickname <br> Dodge. During the long drive here from their homes in the exurbs <br> of Chicago or Minneapolis or St. Louis, the parents would brief the <br> kids on who was who, some of them even brandishing hard copies <br> of the family tree and dossiers of photos. Richard was pretty sure <br> that when they ventured out onto Richard’s branch of the family <br> tree—and a long, stark, forkless branch it was—they got a certain <br> look in their eyes that the kids could read in the rear view mirror, a <br> tone of voice that in this part of the country said more than words <br> were ever allowed to. When Richard encountered them along the <br> firing line, he could see as much in their faces. Some of them would <br> not meet his eye at all. Others met it too boldly, as if to let him know <br> that they were on to him.<br> He accepted a broken twelve gauge side-by-side from a stout <br> man in a camouflage hat whom he recognized vaguely as the second <br> husband of his second cousin Willa. Keeping his face, and the barrel <br> of the weapon, toward the barbed wire fence, he let them stare at <br> the back of his ski parka as he bit the mitten from his left hand and <br> slid a pair of shells into the warm barrels. On the ground several <br> yards out, just where the land dropped into the ravine, someone <br> had set up a row of leftover Halloween pumpkins, most of which <br> were already blasted to pie filling and fanned across the dead brown <br> weeds. Richard snapped the gun together, raised it, packed its butt <br> in snugly against his shoulder, got his body weight well forward, <br> and drew the first trigger back. The gun stomped him, and the base <br> of a pumpkin jumped up and thought about rolling away. He caught <br> it with the second barrel. Then he broke the weapon, snatched out <br> the hot shells, let them fall to the ground, and handed the shotgun <br> to the owner with an appreciative nod.<br> “You do much hunting up there at your Schloss, Dick?” asked <br> a man in his twenties: Willa’s stepson. He said it loudly. It was hard <br> to tell whether this was the orange foam plugs stuffed into his ears <br> or sarcasm.<br> Richard smiled. “None at all,” he replied. “Pretty much everything<br> in my Wikipedia entry is wrong.”<br> The young man’s smile vanished. His eyes twitched, taking <br> in Richard’s $200 electronic hearing protectors, and then looked <br> down, as if checking for cow pies.<br> Though Richard’s Wikipedia entry had been quiet lately, in <br> the past it had been turbulent with edit wars between mysterious <br> people, known only by their IP addresses, who seemed to want to <br> emphasize aspects of his life that now struck him as, while technically<br> true, completely beside the point. Fortunately this had all happened<br> after Dad had become too infirm to manipulate a mouse, but <br> it didn’t stop younger Forthrasts.<br> Richard turned around and began to mosey back the way he <br> had come. Shotguns were not really his favorite. They were <br> relegated to the far end of the firing line. At the near end, beside a <br> motorcade of hastily parked SUVs, eight and ten year old children, <br> enveloped in watchful grown-ups, maintained a peppery fusillade <br> from bolt-action .22s.<br> Directly in front of Richard was a party of five men in their <br> late teens and early twenties, orbited by a couple of aspirant fifteen<br> year olds. The center of attention was an assault rifle, a so-called <br> black gun, military style, no wood, no camouflage, no pretense that <br> it was made for hunting. The owner was Len, Richard’s first cousin <br> once removed, currently a grad student in entomology at the <br> University of Minnesota. Len’s red, wind-chapped hands were gripping <br> an empty thirty-round magazine. Richard, flinching every so often <br> when a shotgun went off behind him, watched Len force three <br> cartridges into the top of the magazine and then hand it to the young <br> man who was currently in possession of the rifle. Then he stepped <br> around behind the fellow and talked him patiently through the<br> process of socketing the magazine, releasing the bolt carrier, and <br> flipping off the safety.<br> Richard swung wide behind them and found himself passing <br> through a looser collection of older men, some relaxing in <br> collapsible chairs of camo-print fabric, others firing big old hunting <br> rifles. He liked their mood better but sensed—and perhaps he was <br> being too sensitive—that they were a little relieved when he kept <br> on walking.<br> He only came to the reunion every two or three years. Age and <br> circumstance had afforded him the luxury of being the family <br> genealogist. He was the compiler of those family trees that the moms <br> unfurled in the SUVs. If he could get their attention for a few <br> minutes, stand them up and tell them stories of the men who had <br> owned, fired, and cleaned some of the guns that were now speaking <br> out along the fence—not the Glocks or the black rifles, of course, <br> but the single-action revolvers, the 1911s, the burnished lever-action <br> .30-30s—he’d make them understand that even if what he’d done <br> did not comport with their ideas of what was right, it was more true <br> to the old ways of the family than how they were living.<br> But why did he even rile himself up this way?<br> Thus distracted, he drifted in upon a small knot of people, mostly <br> in their twenties, firing handguns.<br> In a way he couldn’t quite put his finger on, these had an altogether<br> different look and feel from the ones who swarmed around <br> Len. They were from a city. Probably a coastal city. Probably West <br> Coast. Not L.A. Somewhere between Santa Cruz and Vancouver. <br> A man with longish hair, tattoos peeking out from the sleeves of <br> the five layers of fleece and raincoat he’d put on to defend himself <br> from Iowa, was holding a Glock 17 out in front of him, carefully <br> and interestedly pocking nine-millimeter rounds at a plastic milk <br> jug forty feet away. Behind him stood a woman, darker skinned <br> and haired than any here, wearing big heavy-rimmed glasses that <br> Richard thought of as Gen X glasses even though Gen X must be an <br> ancient term now. She was smiling, having a good time. She was in <br> love with the young man who was shooting.<br> Their emotional openness, more than their hair or clothing, <br> marked them as not from around here. Richard had come out of <br> this place with the reserved, even hard-bitten style that it seemed to <br> tattoo into its men. This had driven half a dozen girlfriends crazy <br> until he had finally made some progress toward lifting it. But, when <br> it was useful, he could drop it like a portcullis.<br> The young woman had turned toward him and thrust her pink <br> gloves up in the air in a gesture that, from a man, meant “Touchdown!”<br> and, from a woman, “I will hug you now!” Through a smile <br> she was saying something to him, snapped into fragments as the <br> earmuffs neutralized a series of nine-millimeter bangs.<br> Richard faltered.<br> A precursor of shock came over the girl’s face as she realized he <br> isn’t going to remember me. But in that moment, and because of that <br> look, Richard knew her. Genuine delight came into his face. “Sue!” <br> he exclaimed, and then—for sometimes it paid to be the family <br> genealogist—corrected himself: “Zula!” And then he stepped <br> forward and hugged her carefully. Beneath the layers, she was bone<br> slender, as always. Strong though. She pulled herself up on tiptoe to <br> mash her cheek against his, and then let go and bounced back onto <br> the heels of her huge insulated boots.<br> He knew everything, and nothing, about her. She must be in <br> her middle twenties now. A couple of years out of college. When <br> had he last seen her?<br> Probably not since she had been in college. Which meant that, <br> during the handful of years that Richard had absentmindedly <br> neglected to think about her, she had lived her entire life.<br> In those days, her look and her identity had not extended much <br> beyond her back story: an Eritrean orphan, plucked by a church mission<br> from a refugee camp in the Sudan, adopted by Richard’s sister, <br> Patricia, and her husband, Bob, re-orphaned when Bob went on the <br> lam and Patricia died suddenly. Readopted by John and his wife, <br> Alice, so that she could get through high school.<br> Richard was ransacking his extremely dim memories of John <br> and Alice’s last few Christmas letters, trying to piece together the <br> rest. Zula had attended college not far away—Iowa State? Done <br> something practical—an engineering degree. Gotten a job, moved <br> somewhere.<br> “You’re looking great!” he said, since it was time to say something,<br> and this seemed harmless.<br> “So are you,” she said.<br> He found this a little off-putting, since it was such transparent <br> BS. Almost forty years ago, Richard and some of his friends had <br> been bombing down a local road on some ridiculous teenaged quest <br> and found themselves stuck behind a slow driving farmer. One of <br> them, probably with the assistance of drugs, had noticed a<br> similarity—which, once pointed out, was undeniable—between <br> Richard’s wide, ruddy cliff of a face and the back end of the red pickup <br> truck ahead of them. Thus the nickname Dodge. He kept wondering<br> when he was going to develop the aquiline, silver-haired good looks of the men <br> in the prostate medication ads on their endless seaplane junkets and fly <br> fishing idylls. Instead he was turning out <br> to be an increasingly spready and mottled version of what he had <br> been at thirty-five. Zula, on the other hand, actually was looking <br> great. Black/Arab with an unmistakable dash of Italian. A <br> spectacular nose that in other families and circumstances would have <br> gone under the knife. But she’d figured out that it was beautiful <br> with those big glasses perched on it. No one would mistake her for a <br> model, but she’d found a look. He could only conjecture what style <br> pheromones Zula was throwing off to her peers, but to him it was <br> a sort of hyperspace-librarian, girl-geek thing that he found clever <br> and fetching without attracting him in a way that would have been <br> creepy. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Reamde</b> by <b>Neal Stephenson</b> Copyright © 2011 by Neal Stephenson. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.