Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
Rosa’s father didn’t open his mouth after the incident. He didn’t say a word to Rosa’s Mamma or to Rosa. Mamma was pretending he was okay, but she was tugging obsessively on her own sleeve. Rosa could tell she was pretty shaken up.
“Why isn’t Daddy saying anything?” Rosa asked.
“I don’t know, sweetie.”
“Is it ’cause of Firoz?”
“I don’t know, Rosa.”
“Why—” She was afraid to ask, because he was sitting right there, but he didn’t look like he could even hear what she was saying. “Why do we hate drug people so much?” she whispered into Mamma’s ear.
Mamma looked like she didn’t think Daddy was listening, either. She shrugged, and she looked really tired. “I wasn’t chuseno before I married your father,” she said. “His grandparents were true believers.” Mamma shifted like she was uncomfortable. “Drugs weren’t legal when my mother was a child the way they are now.”
“But why do we hate them?”
Mamma didn’t answer directly. “Your Daddy was raised that way, and it’s just in him forever. They put it in him really hard.”
“Is he gonna be okay?”
Mamma nodded. “Yes, honey. Drink a sip of your water.”
“I don’t want to.” Rosa didn’t ask any more questions. She didn’t think Mamma wanted to answer any more anyway.
“Daddy,” Rosa said, quietly, patting him on the arm. But he looked like he didn’t feel or hear.
The bus was moving through the dark again. After a while, Rosa got up and walked towards Chassis at the front. On the way she saw the other families. They were hunkered down together. The Kwangs were talking with each other too quiet to hear with the wind whistling through the busted door. The old couple were asleep on each others’ shoulders. The kids were playing already. If what had just happened didn’t faze them, Rosa hated to think what they had been through.
Rosa didn’t look at the body of the guitar lady as she passed. Even out of the corner of her eye she could still see the blood pooling on the floor under the seat. The pungent smell of the blood made her stomach churn. Rosa rushed past and tried not to think about it.
The Chinese family looked really bad. The three of them were all holding each other really tight like they didn’t want to even look up, as if Porter and the old lady were still standing there. The daughter sat like a statue, and the mother clutched her hand, sniffing a lot.
Chassis was calm and quiet at the front of the bus. The wind coming through the shattered door was cold, and it was making the little pieces of glass hanging from the rubber wiggle and flap.
“Are we gonna be okay?”
“Yes,” Chassis said. Rosa didn’t think she meant it. She just didn’t want anyone to worry.
“I’m not scared,” Rosa said to her.
Chassis looked up at her for a split second before returning her gaze to the road. “Yes, you are,” she said. “But you won’t feel it ’til later.”
Rosa didn’t believe her.
“Are you scared?” Rosa asked her.
“You’d be crazy not to be scared,” Chassis said. It wasn’t a real answer. Rosa wasn’t sure whether she meant she was scared or she was crazy.
“Our President will take care of us,” Rosa said, over her shoulder.
Chassis looked back at her again. “You believe that?”
The question surprised Rosa. Nobody had ever asked her that before. “That’s what Mamma always says,” Rosa told her.
“What does it mean?” Chassis asked Rosa.
Rosa felt mad, being asked that question. Chassis knew what it meant. But Rosa recited what she’d learned, trying to keep from messing up. “Mamma said the market rises and falls. She says it’s designed to come round again if you trust in the President. The President takes care of us. You just—”
Rosa had to stop because Chassis was snorting, looking away.
“Why you laughing?” Rosa demanded.
But Chassis didn’t answer. She just shook her head and smiled the rest of her laugh away.
After a few minutes, she started looking in her side mirror. Then she kept looking in it.
“What’s wrong?” Rosa asked.
At first Chassis didn’t want to say. But after Rosa asked her a few more times, she finally admitted, “Someone’s following us.”
“It may be for our protection,” she said. “But I don’t like being followed.” She started to speed up the bus.
She kept looking in her mirror, and it seemed like she didn’t feel safe enough because she sped up again. And again.
Then they passed a sign that Rosa could see read “Ascension.” “That’s where our protection ends,” Chassis said. As she said it, a pair of headlights came up in the side mirror like a pair of cat’s eyes opening. Then another pair appeared behind it.
“They’re behind us,” she said. “And I think we’d better speed all the way up.” She stepped on the gas hard, and the bus jerked forward.
“How fast will it go?” Rosa asked.
“I didn’t want to go too fast on this road,” she answered. “But if it’s that or the alternative—”
“What alternative?” Rosa asked.
“You ask too many qu—” With a sickening lurch the bus leaned down, and this time everyone on the bus screamed. The bottom of the bus scraped against the road and lit up the windshield with blue sparks. Chassis pushed really hard on the brake pedal and pulled hard on the lever by her right leg. Rosa grabbed a metal bar behind Chassis’ chair and hung on while her legs whipped out from under her. The air outside the windows screamed like the bus was about to flip over onto its side, but somehow Chassis hung on to the wheel and spun them right and left, and they stayed upright. Finally, they skidded to a stop.
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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