Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
The bus door shattered into a thousand pieces and folded in. Rosa saw Chassis’ eyes were now trained on the large man coming up the stairs with a shotgun in his hands. As he got to the top a little woman stepped up behind him.
The man resembled a huge toddler—his face puffy and pink. His pimply scalp looked like a pig’s back. Along the bands of the sleeveless T-shirt he was wearing, you could see lumps of various sizes all over the bottom of his neck and shoulders. He spoke in a voice like the gunshot that had demolished the bus door. “Y’all are trespassing!” He was speaking English, of course. Rosa knew a little English because all the prayers were in English, but his accent was so strange she almost couldn’t make it out. “We welcome you to the great sovereign nation of Stake’s Claim Under God.” He held his gun across his chest.
The old woman creaked out from behind him, “Y’all speak English?” She was tiny compared to the man, but she didn’t look fragile. Rosa figured you couldn’t get a pin inside the folds of her prim old-fashioned suit. Her steely blue eyes were sweeping from side to side, and knocked away everything they touched. The little grey bun on the back of her head was so tight Rosa thought it must have been glued to her.
“I understand you,” said Chassis, stepping up to the man and looking at his face. She didn’t seem much afraid. She actually looked like she was trying not to laugh. The man noticed and he glared down at her like he was ready to step on her.
“Any of these other folks?” the old woman asked, nodding with her head at all the passengers.
“Tell them they’ve entered our jurisdiction unlawfully, but if they do as they’re told, no one will harm them.”
Chassis turned back towards them and spoke to them in bored Spanish. “This is obviously a tribute ambush. I’m sorry. It happens from time to time. Just do what I tell you. Don’t listen to them. Listen to me.”
The old woman waited for a second. “You tell them yet?” she asked Chassis.
“What do you want?” Chassis asked.
“We ask what’s fair in the name of the Skelton Treaty,” she said. “Ten percent of all valuables on the bus. An’ half that good city water you brought, too.”
“The Skelton Treaty was repealed,” Chassis told her. “Virgilina breached—“
“That’s Virgilina!” the old woman snapped, showing her sharp teeth, her eyes like cold iron. Rosa couldn’t believe how Chassis didn’t flinch from her glare. When the woman made her demands she seemed completely unbending, like any answer that wasn’t yes was a dangerous one, maybe even too dangerous for her to consider. “We’re a sovereign nation unto God, separate from Virgilina. You have a compact with us.”
Chassis shrugged. Frowning with impatience, the old woman pulled out a little silver pistol and pointed it at Chassis. Looking briefly at the pistol, Chassis turned towards her passengers and said in Spanish, “These people don’t want to deal with the work of getting rid of us. They’re not necessarily murderers. They just want ten percent of everything you own. That’s one tenth of your cigarettes, some of your food, half of your water. Use your common sense and give them something valuable. Don’t hold anything back or they’ll just get angry. They probably wouldn’t mind killing one or two of you.”
Quickly the passengers started fishing through their possessions, finding things they could get rid of. When Rosa looked out the window she saw people pointing big guns right at their heads.
“Don’t give them just any old thing,” Chassis said in Spanish. “It’s got to be something that will satisfy them.”
“You,” the little old woman said to Chassis. “Sit in the chair.” She waved the small silver pistol towards the driver’s seat.
Chassis nodded and moved past the big man, then eased herself down. “Go on,” the woman said in English, and the oversized, greasy baby man started walking down the aisle toward Rosa with an empty burlap sack. He looked over everything people handed him. Sometimes he nodded and took it. Sometimes he shook his head and roared in their faces until they gave him something else. He seemed to be concentrating very hard on his job, his breath loud and steady.
The lady with the guitar had to open her tennis racket case and show him what was inside. The man frowned at the guitar like he couldn’t tell if it was valuable or not. Then he gestured at the strings. Her face fell and she took the strings off of it, unravelling them one by one like she was undressing a lover. After she gave the strings to the big man she turned away to the window so he couldn’t her face.
The man got to Rosa, curled back in her Mamma’s grip which grew tighter at his approach. His sweaty, dirty smell got stronger as he leaned forward. He hung over her with an expectant glare. She didn’t know what to give him. Instinctively, her hand had already gone into her pocket. Her fingers intertwined with the chain Basil had given her. Quickly she pulled it out and held it up for the man to see. The man grabbed it to look at it real close, then stuffed it in his shirt pocket.
Rosa knew her Mamma had seen the chain and would want to know where she got it. She couldn’t ask now, because nobody was talking. Rosa’s Mamma gave the man two cigarettes because she didn’t want to spare any food. Rosa’s father was rummaging through his bag to find anything he could. All he could come up with was a wrapped piece of chocolate.
As the man moved past, Rosa put her knees on the seat and turned to see what he would do when he got to Firoz. The addict probably didn’t even know what was going on. “Come on, spig!” the man shouted at him. He slapped Firoz with his huge hand. “Up!” But Firoz didn’t look at him. His body just went where the man’s hand took it.
“He’s a drug worshipper,” Chassis told the woman at the front of the bus. “He doesn’t have anything but his drugs.”
“No food? No water?” demanded the woman.
“Probably not,” Chassis said.
The big man searched all over Firoz’s body, feeling for anything he could take. All he found were needles and empty plastic bags. Roughly he pulled the needle out of Firoz’ arm, and he cursed as he tried to avoid the blood oozing from the puncture. He threw the empty syringe to the side and glared down at Firoz.
“He ain’t got nothing,” the man said back to the woman.
“I told you,” Chassis said.
“Then he’s got to die,” the woman said, shrugging.
“No!” Chassis said, standing up.
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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