Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
After the crashing of the glass finally stopped, Rosa didn’t hear any cars driving away. That’s why she was scared to move. Her and everybody else. She thought the attackers were just waiting, standing around the bus with their guns pointed at the windows, ready to shoot off the first head they saw.
So nobody made a sound. She didn’t know how long. All her sense of time was lost in Porter’s baleful eyes, painted on her mind’s eye. All Rosa could think of was how sad he seemed. That confused her, that she felt bad for the man who was going to attack her, and she writhed trying to work it out.
Chassis finally rasped, “Okay. They’re gone. Everybody, let me see you.”
Rosa was up fast. At first, it was hard to tell who was dead and who was alive, because some people wanted to stay on the floor forever. But finally, everybody who was getting up did.
Three people didn’t. First one was little Samoae. When old Mrs. Kwang saw that her baby was dead, a wail came out of her mouth. The little girl had taken a bullet in her left eye. The mama tried to hug her, but the child’s body flopped around in her mother’s arms. Her other eye was rolled up towards the right and her mouth was open a little. The smelly Torture Me Doll dropped onto the rubber mat and slid towards the front.
The Chinese man was killed, too—the father of the girl that Porter wanted. He must have been standing there when the guns were firing. He looked like such a mess Rosa couldn’t have said who he was if she hadn’t known. The Chinese woman and her daughter were rocking over him rhythmically, the blood leaving huge stains on their beautiful clothes.
The third person who didn’t get up was Rosa’s Daddy.
He was crouched down, like he had a cramp. He was breathing really hard and grinning a little. Rosa was so scared when she saw that she was afraid to run back to him. She just stood still while Mamma checked him out. Chassis slowly made her way back. The driver knelt down carefully on one knee.
“Mr. Pares,” Chassis said. Her voice was tired and ragged. “Mr. Pares. Are you okay?”
“My side hurts,” Rosa’s Daddy said.
“Left side.” Then he grunted and bent over more.
“Don’t move,” Chassis said. “Don’t move at all. Okay?”
Daddy looked like he was nodding, with his head bent down low towards the floor.
Rosa followed Chassis up to the front of the bus because Chassis was the only one who knew what was going on, and Rosa wanted to do something. The driver was moving slowly and carefully towards her seat. She stopped, and her head came over her shoulder. She didn’t look at Rosa all the way, but she said, “Don’t follow me. Get back there with your Daddy.”
“What can I do?” Rosa asked.
“Keep your head,” Chassis grunted. Then she moved forwards. Rosa went back to where her Mamma was kneeling.
“Daddy, does it hurt?” Rosa asked him into his ear. He didn’t answer. “Does it hurt?” She was afraid he was already dead. Mamma tried to calm her down.
“No, baby,” Daddy finally answered. It was like he was speaking up to her from the bottom of a basement stair.
Then Aunt Kin Kwang came up to Rosa’s Mamma. “Our President will take care of us,” she said to her.
Mamma looked up. Rosa could tell she really appreciated the comment, especially since the Kwangs had already lost their little girl. The one-eyed woman held Mamma’s hand until Chassis came back.
It took longer than Rosa thought it would, but Chassis finally moved down the aisle with a box with a red letter “t” on the side. She laid it down by Rosa’s Daddy, then asked him some questions, really softly.
She must have asked if he was able to move, because he finally lay on his back in the aisle. That’s when Rosa saw how much blood there was. He was holding his side, and his hand was soaked. Rosa started to make a high-pitched squeal. She was embarrassed and scared at the same time.
She cried while Chassis was wrapping him up, because she couldn’t do anything for him herself. Chassis worked so slowly, Rosa thought he would bleed to death before she was done. But after she finished, he did look more comfortable. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing—little shallow breaths, but regular.
“Rosa, you stay with him,” Chassis said. “Doing what you’re doing, letting him know he’s got you.” And she went back to the front of the bus, not looking to either side but keeping her head pointed at the rearview mirror. As Chassis staggered past, the Chinese woman stood up. “What do we do now?” she asked, like she was demanding a solution.
Chassis sighed and sat down heavily in her seat. She grunted as her bottom hit the chair, then her body sagged in relief.
“Ms. Chassis,” the Chinese woman said, again. “What do we do now?”
Chassis didn’t look at the Chinese woman. Rosa didn’t know if she was mad at her for her husband having caused all of this, or what. But she kept looking out the shattered front window. “This bus will never drive again tonight,” Chassis finally muttered. “Maybe—” She faded out for a second.
“Should we stay here?” asked the old man Kwang. He and his wrinkly old wife looked like they hadn’t moved at all since they left port, even during the gunfire.
“Yes,” Chassis rasped. “I’ve called into Washington. We’re a little closer to them than Atlanta. They may send help.”
“May?” her mother said.
Chassis didn’t answer her. She just kept looking out the front window.
Nobody spoke for a little while. It was like they were waiting for Chassis to continue. But she didn’t. Finally, the whispers started. Rosa wanted to talk to Chassis some more, so she got up and started walking forward.
Mamma grabbed her by the arm, yanking Rosa back. Rosa pulled free, escaped her Mama’s clutching, and ignored the calls. When she got to the front of the bus, she said, “Chassis.”
Chassis was sagging down in her seat like she was exhausted. She didn’t look up, and she didn’t answer.
Rosa didn’t want to look too closely. She never saw a wound, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any. She didn’t know if she should tell everyone or not. Mr. Kwang noticed her standing there looking stupid. “What’s wrong?” he asked, like he knew but didn’t want to guess.
Rosa told him. “Chassis’s dead.”
Then all the whispers stopped again.
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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