She lives! More or less. These past few months have been scattered - depression sucks, health sucks, writer’s block sucks, and the world is burning (literally, in some places). But you know what doesn’t suck? Writing. I need to remember that.
“Last pass” edits to Terminus are all blocked out and finally underway. Immense gratitude to my beta readers, who have been a galvanizing force, reminding me of the passion I originally felt for the story. This past weekend, though, I got a bit naughty and rekindled my affair with another project - Americana. It’s been too long since I’ve had one of those time-distorting, forget-to-eat, only-leave-the-desk-when-your-bladder-can’t-take-anymore writing sessions. Gods, I’ve missed this.
I don’t hate what I wrote either. Americana is evolving. How can it not, when it feels like we’re watching the collapse of our country in real time? Sure, maybe this is all just an angry lib’s way of making herself feel better - full of queer cowboys (Jackson), aged civil rights leaders (Dot), and a grown-up orphan of a border detention center (Nora). It even follows my own journey in reverse - starting in the Pacific Northwest, traveling through Las Vegas and the open roads of the West, oozing with love for NOLA and the resilient South, before diving into a twisted take on neo-D.C. and the go-go Eastern cities.
Ah, the benefits of faux hindsight. Really, though, it's a story about the next generations putting things to rights. That counts as optimism, yes?
Anyway, here’s what I wrote. Possibly an example of how hard it is for fiction writers to function in this climate. Still, it felt pretty damn good. This thing is taking shape.
[After acquiring a new companion, our eastward travelers bed down for the night at an abandoned RV park.]
“I was headed for Houston.”
“Houston? I thought… with the hurricane…?”
“Which one?” Jackson shot her a wry smile. “Don’t mean it’s gone. Moved, is all.” He bristled proudly. “And still a free city.”
“I’ve heard that.” They sat in silence for a time. “That’s where you’re from, then? Houston?”
“Got people there. Me, I was born outside of St. Louis.”
Vee flinched. “Sorry.”
“That’s where you’re going, isn’t it?” It was more statement than question. His dark eyes searched her face.
Dot - The Outlaw Dorothy Kaine! - had welcomed her new acolyte with barely a second look, but Nora kept a hawkish watch on their new traveling companion. “Trust forged at gunpoint doesn’t last,” Nora had mused when Vee offered to relieve her.
They had holed up for the night in a graveyard of RVs and mobile homes, a silt-strewn dumping ground that was overtaken by the river every summer. It was a place that Jack had known, of course, a sort of waystation that he’d promised would keep us well off the major highways. The high ground did still have some serviceable units, threadbare shadows of old world luxury, the kind of hulking cruiser that retirees might have taken on a trip across the country, gobbling up The Open Road. Three of them formed a loose circle, having been swept almost clean by their previous occupants. There was privacy, if they wanted it.
The place was abandoned, as Jack had promised, but Nora insisted on a sweep of the area, her pistol pointed at the ground as she slipped into a practiced scouting stance. Jack indulged her without a word, doing the same, their whispers hissing back and forth as they cleared anything that could still be counted as shelter. They worked well together, though pointing that out to Nora would only irritate her.
Dot had nodded approvingly before ducking into the nearest RV and snapping shut the dingy curtains. Before the door closed behind her, Vee had seen her sag. Hero of the secession or not, she was past fifty and the day’s journey had been rougher than most. Eventually, Vee had convinced Nora to take the camper opposite. She’d tried to argue, casting a loaded glance in Jack’s direction before a yawn betrayed her. Vee was too tired to sleep and had glared back a wordless promise to keep an eye on him. The other woman might have been content to keep watch in brooding silence, but Vee was glad for the company.
“Yeah. We’re going to St. Louis.”
Jack sat back, resting elbows on his knees. “The river’s your best bet. Temperamental as she might be. I’ve got friends in NOLA who can help.” He shot her a sideways look. “New Orleans.”
To Vee, it had the fabled ring of Atlantis. The Sinking City, a place of lights and music and legend. Like Houston, it had been battered by storms since before she was born. Its people had learned to be resilient, even when the storms started coming more and more. “A ‘fifty-year-storm’ every year by the end,” her father had said. He’d gone to college there, had traveled up to Washington D.C. to protest when the people in charge kept denying what was happening. There was oil involved too, somehow. She couldn’t quite remember. That’s what had made it unlivable, in the end, the poison in the water when the Gulf finally claimed the city.
“Let me guess… it moved?”
He winked. “Place like that don’t just go away. You might even say it’s a state of mind.”
Vee chuckled along with him, but there was no real mirth in it.
After New Orleans had come Miami. Charlotte and Houston and Atlanta. Boston and Philadelphia and the Island of Manhattan. Even Washington, one-time epicenter of willfully blind capitalist corruption, had been swallowed by the rising tides that its leaders so fervently denied. The irony of it might have made her smile once. Not anymore.
The power structure had quickly re-established itself in St. Louis. That was where her brother was. That was where Nora had been raised - taken from a family that she could barely remember, made a ward of the state and saddled with the anglicized name that she so hated. It was where a man calling himself “President” was entering his second decade of rule, where people lived in indentured service to whichever corporation purchased their debt, where the biggest business was War - perpetuated at all costs, even though the other side had taken their ball and gone home. “Without border skirmishes and regular arrests, their economy would collapse.” It was her mother’s voice that Vee heard now, the tired, lecturing tone that she always fell into when discussing the state of the East.
This was the closest she had ever been, Virginia realized. They had hundreds of miles left to go, but somewhere out across the plains was the house that she’d been born in, the state for which she’d been named. She didn’t remember any of it, of course. She’d been a baby in her mother’s arms when they were forced to run, when her father had been shot, when her parents had had no choice but to leave her brother behind. They’d chosen Vee’s life over his. No matter how many times they tried to convince her otherwise, none of them could escape that simple truth. She owed Mason. And Mason was in St. Louis. Mason had a child of his own on the way. If Vee could help him get his family out, maybe that could start to make things right.
Her hands looked pale in the firelight, the nails bitten down to the quick. “Your friends will help us? Just like that?”
Jack smiled. “Might be I’m owed a few favors.”
“And you’re helping us, why?”
“Just a good samaritan, I guess.” He picked up his hat and twirled it onto his head, tugging at the brim with a comical flourish. “Never could resist a lady in trouble.”
“Don’t say that where Nora can hear you. Not if you don’t want to - what’s the phrase? - ‘catch a whoopin’.”
Jack laughed. “No doubt.”
“What can you tell me about Dot?”
He blinked at the abrupt change of direction. “Thought you grew up with her.”
“She’s not exactly forthcoming with the personal details. I didn’t even know that she… that she was….”
“But you’d heard of her?”
He grinned. “So, what you’re really saying is that you just failed to put the pieces together?”
“Haha.” Vee glanced back at the camper that the old woman had chosen. Nothing stirred. “It’s just - she’s always been Dot, you know?”
“Crazy old lady that lives in the woods? Sounds like the kind of reputation that someone in hiding might want to cultivate.”
“Fine, yes, I’m a dumbass, I admit it.” She shot him a look over the flames, but couldn’t keep from sharing his smile. “Happy?”
Settling back against an oversized tire, Jack tilted his hat down to cover his eyes. It was like something out of an old Western, the universal sign for “go away and let me get some shut-eye.”
“Why do I feel like you’re making fun of me?” he muttered from beneath the brim.
To be continued…
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