An Excerpt from Jees' Bones by W. Dave Free

Chapter 1
The rear wheels of the quad threw gravel into the air as Jeremy made the turn into the ranch yard. Chickens squawked and flapped in every direction. Jeremy kept the throttle wide open until the last second, then slammed on the brakes and skidded the little four-wheeler to a stop just inches from the bumper of the truck. Pulling the kill switch, he jumped off and ran up the steps.
“Dad! Dad! I found some! I found some!” he yelled as the screen door slammed behind him.
“Jeremy David, were you chasing my chickens again?” Jeremy’s mom replied from the large ranch kitchen. “I could hear them squawking all the way in here.”
“Sorry, Mom, I really didn't mean to this time. Where's Dad? I need him!”
“I think he’s out at the ponds taking some measurements. I need you—”
Jeremy was out the back door and racing towards the large greenhouse buildings before she could finish.
“Dad! Dad!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. His dog Blue jumped up from a shady spot under the tree and chased after him. Within seconds they were at the door of the first greenhouse. Jeremy grabbed the handle and pulled the door open. Blue tried to slip in the opening. Jeremy pushed him back with his leg and slammed the door.
“You know you're not allowed in there, boy! Go on, get out of here!” He pushed Blue away with his leg, then quickly pulled the door open, slipped through, and pulled it shut before Blue could get in. “Dad, are you in here?” he yelled as he shut the door.
“Over here, Jee!” his dad called from the little lab area that was set up in the corner of the building. Most of Jeremy's family called him Jee, thanks to his little sister Madison. When she was just learning to talk she could only say the first and last sounds of his name. The result was Jee, and the name had stuck. Even though Madison was now eight and more than capable of saying his full name, the family still used his nickname. Except when he was in trouble. Then it was Jeremy David!
“Dad, I found them! I found them!” Jeremy ran over to his dad who was wearing a white lab coat and standing over a stainless steel table.
“Found what?” his dad looked up at him.
“Dinosaur bones! I found dinosaur bones on our property. I knew there had to be some out there!”
“Good for you, son.” Jeremy's dad replied absent-mindedly, never looking up from what he was doing.
“Dad, I'm serious! It's not just an old stick this time! It's a whole skull. I'm not sure what kind it is, maybe a Troodon or an—”
“Old cow's head?” his dad finished, glancing up at him with a smile.
“No Dad, not this time. It's right in the cliff. You've got to come see it. Come on!” Jeremy pleaded, gripping the end of the table. His dad looked up, surprised by the urgency in his son’s voice.
“Okay son, help me finish weighing the rest of these little buggars and I'll go with you. Where did you find it?”
“You know where the road crosses the dry creek bed?” Jeremy didn't wait for an answer. “I went up the creek bed from there, all the way to where the creek comes off the cliff. Then I worked my way along the cliff. We've got to hurry, Dad, it's the coolest thing!”
Dad smiled again. “If it really is a dinosaur, he's been there for a bazillion years. He's not going anywhere in the next half hour. Now get suited up. I need you to pull samples from the other end of the pond.”
“Dad, the bones!” Jeremy whined.
“The sooner we get done, the sooner we get out to the bones.”
“I knew you'd say that.” Jeremy walked over to the white lab coats hanging from a hook on the wall and pulled one on. He sat down on the little bench and pulled some light blue “booties” on over his dust-covered sneakers, then pulled on rubber gloves.
“Buckets are in the sink,” Dad said. “I've got the samples from this end. I just need the three from the other end. You know where to take them?”
Jeremy nodded, grabbed three buckets from the sink and headed for the opposite end of the building. Each building was nearly as long as a football field and about half as wide. The walls and ceiling were made of clear plastic, just like a greenhouse. But Jeremy's family didn't grow tomatoes or flowers. They grew shrimp. At least they tried to grow shrimp.
As Jeremy trudged along he thought about how all this had started. Jeremy's dad used to work for a big company that made computers. The family had lived in a normal house in a normal neighborhood in Mesa, Arizona. Then one day his Dad came home and announced that he was taking early retirement. A few months later everything was packed in a moving truck and they were driving north to find the perfect location for the Free-4-All Ranch. For as long as he could remember, his dad had told him bedtime stories about the Free-4-All Ranch. The ranch was a make-believe place where the family always had great adventures. Now his dad was determined to turn fantasy into reality before the last of his children moved away.
Jeremy had three sisters and three brothers. His oldest sister was married and lived in Chicago where her husband was studying to be a doctor. His three older brothers were also away at school and missed out on the big move. That left Jeremy, his older sister Elena, and his younger sister Madison to pile in the car with Mom and Dad and head north. They got as far as Cedar City, Utah and then turned west. As they drove, the countryside got browner and bleaker and Jeremy's Dad got happier and happier. When they finally arrived at the “ranch” all they found was an old house trailer and a few broken-down out buildings. The nearest town was thirty miles away, and it boasted one-and-a-half working gas stations.
What the ranch lacked in common comforts, it more than made up for in “natural resources,” as Jeremy's dad called them. In the two years the family had lived there, they discovered that the ranch had two natural resources: wind and hot water. Three hundred and sixty days of the year (Jeremy had counted) the wind blew. To most of the family the wind was an annoyance, but to Jeremy's dad it was an opportunity for adventure. One of the first things they built was a windmill to help generate electricity. In addition to the wind, the ranch boasted seventeen natural springs where crystal clear water bubbled up from an underground aquifer. Fifteen of the springs were hot. Three were even too hot to touch.
“Our own little Yellowstone!” Jeremy's dad had exclaimed to the girls when they first arrived.
“Except it’s ugly, there’s no Old Faithful, and there are no buffalo!” Jeremy's older sister Elena had complained. She hadn’t been very excited to leave her friends, harp lessons, and clogging team behind in Mesa.
“Maybe not, but with those springs our home will always be warm. And it won't cost a dime!” Dad replied.
“You’re going to heat our home with spring water?” Jeremy's mom asked incredulously.
“Absolutely. And we're going to build the house out of straw so none of the heat escapes.”
“Straw?” Mom said doubtfully.
“It’s an excellent insulator,” Dad assured her.
“But what about the big bad wolf?” Elena had asked with a smile.
That was nearly two years ago. The ranch was now complete. Its walls were made of bales of straw stacked on top of each other and held tightly in place with large stakes. Both sides of the walls were covered with stucco. Unless someone mentioned it, you would never know the walls were made of straw. As Dad promised, it was cool in the summer and warm in the winter. To help keep their home warm in the winter, the three hottest springs were capped off and the scalding spring water was piped to radiators throughout the house.
The day they moved into the new ranch house, dad suggested they burn the old house trailer and the outbuildings. Not surprisingly, mom had serious reservations about the idea. But Jeremy and Dad prevailed and mom supplied them with two dozen hot dogs and roasting sticks and by the time they’d fed Sheriff Brown, his two deputies, and all the volunteer fire fighters, the hot dogs were gone. Sheriff Brown was very nice. He encouraged Jeremy's dad to keep his fires smaller in the future.
Jeremy loved life on the ranch. He missed a few things from the city like playing lacrosse and hanging out with his friends. But he loved exploring and racing his four-wheeler across wide open spaces and now he had found dinosaur bones! He was sure of it.
He reached the end of the building on the elevated walkway that spanned the length of the building. Most of the building, except the lab area, was filled with a large pond about five feet deep. The elevated walkway stretched across the pond from end to end like a long bridge. Every twenty yards or so, crosswalks intersected the walkway, running side to side across the pond. At the end of the walkway Jeremy turned left on the final crosswalk. When he reached the far corner of the pond, he got down on his knees and used a net to scoop up several of the little shrimp into one of the buckets. Next, he walked to the other corner of the pond and repeated the process, making sure to put the shrimp in a different bucket. He took his final sample near the center of the pond, then ran as fast as he dared back down the walkway to the lab area.
“Here they are!” he gasped as he set the buckets on the floor next to his dad.
“Thanks. Would you mind entering the data for me?” Dad replied.
“Sure.” Jeremy shifted the laptop Dad had been using so that he could get to the keyboard. Dad continued weighing each individual shrimp and calling out the weights for Jeremy, who entered them in the computer. After fifteen minutes they were done.
Dad shifted the laptop back so he could see the screen then entered a few keystrokes. “Let's see how we measure up, shall we?” A graph came up on the screen and Jeremy's dad frowned.
“Well? How are they doing?” Jeremy asked.
“Not good enough.” Dad grunted. “See this line?” He pointed to a curve on the graph that started low and gradually rose as it moved to the right. Jeremy nodded.
“That’s the growth rate of the average farmed shrimp. See this line?” he pointed to a line that started in the same place but didn't rise as quickly as the first line. “This line is our shrimp. They’re not growing as fast as they should. I can't figure out why. Maybe the water still isn’t right.” He started mumbling to himself, clearly bent on solving the problem now. He opened one of the cupboards and began to take out testing equipment.
“Dad,” Jeremy interrupted. His dad turned to look at him. “The bones, remember?” Jeremy asked hopefully.
Jeremy's dad smiled. “Right. Sorry, I got distracted. The shrimp can wait. Let's go look at your bones.”