Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
So she took her neighbor’s bike which was always lying there on the floor by their door and she followed Basil around the kids playing tennis in the streets, down twisty Mount Paran towards Long Island in the middle of the night, trying to ignore the distant gunshots a couple of miles away on Roswell Road.
Basil’s Church was a little grey stone building on Glen Crest, about a 30 minute ride from her apartment.
The Church wasn’t very big. There couldn’t have been more than two rooms inside, or maybe three. There were some ruins behind it, some old shell of a building that used to be part of the Church but now wasn’t anything but a place for grass to grow. The Church building was old, probably been there since before Rosa’s grandmama was a kid.
In front of it was a cemetery with faded gravestones. Rosa ran her hand across one as they passed. In the dark, she could barely make out a “1902” on one.
“Get down!” Basil said, and he threw his bike to the side and pulled Rosa behind a gravestone. They fell onto the grass, and Basil looked around the stone like someone would shoot them if they peeked their heads out.
“Whatchu do that for?” Rosa demanded, dusting herself off.
“Quiet, perra!” he whispered at her.
“Don’t call me perra!” she snapped at him. She smiled inside. To Rosa, it felt just like they were going out. He was just trying to impress her by being a macho.
He leaned his back against the gravestone. Then he looked at her. “You pretty,” he said. He grinned uncertainly. He brought his hand up to touch her arm.
“Go ’way, Basil,” she said, pushing off his arm.
“Why you be like that?” he asked her.
She stopped fighting and let him touch her a little. It felt nice. His face got soft, kinda curious. Rosa knew what he was curious about. Before he could think too much about that, she said, “You goh’ take me in or not?”
He looked like he wasn’t sure anymore, but he wasn’t going to back down. “You sure you want to?” he asked her again.
Rosa nodded. But she was scared, too.
“Stay close to me,” he whispered, and he turned onto his belly and crept around the gravestone.
Rosa followed him through the scrub grass and white stone pillows until they were right up behind the old grey building. She could see stained glass windows along the side of the Church. A little light was coming through them so that they glowed dully. She wondered if they looked prettier from the inside.
Meanwhile, Basil was checking something out by a thickly painted white door near the back. Suddenly a loud bell from somewhere high above them rang out. The sound made Basil panic, and he jumped, looking all around. “Let’s go!” he whispered, and vanished through the doorway.
From over the hill, Rosa saw some shapes emerge out of the dark into the glow of the street lamps. They all moved towards the Church, coming from every direction. Each one had a different kind of walk. One kept his head way up and had a conversation with the sky. Others skated with their feet and never took their eyes off the ground. Then there were some who could have been normal if you didn’t know.
All these people were the faithful come to worship.
Basil grabbed her hard by the arm and yanked her inside.
She didn’t have a chance to complain about being treated rough. She was too scared to make any noise at all. They were in the Church. Rosa wasn’t supposed to be here. She wasn’t even supposed to be within sight of here.
They crept up an old flight of wooden stairs. She knew Basil was sweating it every time a step creaked. Finally they got to the top and, creeping on their hands and knees, they went out onto some kind of balcony with a high wooden rail. She couldn’t have seen over without standing up, but she could hear all sorts of shuffling and muttering from down below, only the words didn’t make any sense. It sounded like seventy people having seventy different conversations. But it was quiet, too, like nobody answered anybody else, like everyone in that place thought they were the only one there.
They kept creeping ’til they got to the middle of a big dent in the floor that was a different color from the other wood, like something big had once been sitting in that spot. Rosa saw some old wires splayed around, the sliced pieces of rubber-insulation sticking up like two crazy hands. Basil curved his finger at her and pointed her to a little hole in the dent just big enough for the two of them to peek through. They had to keep their faces real close to one another to see. Ordinarily she’d like that, being close to him, but this time she was too scared.
Down below she could see a very long room stretching out with rows and rows of benches all facing some raised platform. There were a couple of high tables, and on each table many bags and bottles. In front stood two people dressed in black robes with hoods behind their heads, waiting patiently while two lines formed, made up of all the chatterers who had been walking towards the Church.
“What they doing?” Rosa whispered to Basil.
“That the faithful lining up to get the Body and the Blood,” Basil answered.
“What they need. Whatever drugs they on.”
“How you know what drugs they need?”
“It our job to know,” Basil said, trying to sound wise.
Now each person in line was stepping up and showing them their arm or opening their mouth, and the robe-people were applying tourniquets or giving them whatever it was they asked for.
“We got to learn about seventy different kinds of drugs,” Basil told her, “and they got to be the right ones or the faithful can die or lose control.”
Rosa didn’t know what to say. She just watched it for a while. It made her feel taller inside, seeing something that she knew her Mamma and Daddy never saw.
Basil squawked, and out of the corner of her eye Rosa saw him being pulled away. She was too terrified to look up until she heard the other deep, dry voice.
“This is abomination,” it said. Right after came a hand hitting somebody’s face. That’s when Rosa turned around real quick and scooted away, looking up at the Padre, Basil’s father.
More about Motherless Child
When Rosa’s mother loses her job with the Corporate United States, her family must flee or be killed in an employee purge. Taking the dangerous bus trip across the Unincorporated States, they are ambushed by bandits. Hopelessly separated from her family, Rosa is rescued by the people of Ascension, a small backwoods Virgilna town with a terrible secret.
Seventeen years in the making, Cole’s book about a girl trapped between two Americas serves as a reminder of what the United States has become, and what it still could be.
Adam Cole is an author and music educator in Atlanta, GA. He has written numerous books and stories for children, as well as a number of adult and non-fiction titles including The Girl With the Bow and Seven Ways the World Can End.
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