Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
Part Two – What Happened to Ascension
A bug crawled into her ear. She sat up panicked and pounded until it came out. She had been sleeping. Nothing was evident in the darkness in which she found herself. She had no clue to where she was. A gunshot went off somewhere far away and echoed off a hill.
When light came through the cracks in the locked door she could see that she was in a tiny room. When that door finally opened, she backed up as far from it as she could. A small, thin young woman brought her something to drink and left her without saying a word. Once again, she was left to sit alone in the dark.
Sometimes she thought she heard groaning coming from the other side of the wall. Was it a dream, or what was left over from a dream? No, because it turned to screaming. It kept on so long that she finally fell asleep to it, and then she dreamed about it.
When it was daytime, a little more light snuck in. Rosa could see whitewash over some cheap plaster that had been cracked by the incessant heat.
She could still hear his muffled screams from her little closet.
“Qué es ese sonido?” she asked the woman, when she came back in.
The woman shrugged. She didn’t understand. She didn’t speak Spanish.
“What’s that sound?” she asked again in English.
“That’s your father,” the woman answered.
“The man you came here with.”
“He’s not my father!”
The door was thrust open. A tall, haggard man came through and stared at her, his tortured eyes red and bloodshot. “Shut her up!” he rasped. “It’s bad enough he’s howling to wake the dead. We’ll have enough of a time keeping them away.”
When Rosa saw the white man, she screamed. She shoved with her feet against the floor, trying to push herself into the wall. Her hands flayed as she tried to fend off the attack she knew was coming.
“She’s just a child!” snapped the woman. “What did you expect?” She put her arms around Rosa and tried to hold her still.
“Just keep her quiet!” Then he was gone back through the darkened hole, towards the howling.
Rosa’s gasps subsided. She stopped trying to push away. She submitted to the woman’s touch.
“Try to rest and stay quiet,” said the woman, patting a little bedding on a hardwood floor.
Rosa lay down and felt the oppressive heat smother her as the wailing went on and on. She felt something crawl across her face. She flicked it off. It hit the ground and scurried away, and she sat up quickly. Something else scuttled across her leg. She sat against the wall and kept still.
The howling didn’t stop. It didn’t stop during the following night, or any time during the day after that. It varied in intensity, sometimes pained, sometimes guttural. It was like a program you hadn’t meant to subscribe to, one that didn’t end.
Then there was something else. It came from a different direction and didn’t sound like anything she’d ever heard before. It could have been commercials, but not the ones Rosa knew well, more like the one the guitar woman had played. They didn’t make sense. Even through the wall, muffled, it was clear they weren’t selling anything. It was just people singing, the words indistinct.
She couldn’t get there to find out. She was trapped in the little closet, the door kept locked. She barely remembered being brought here now. She had no real sense of time, could have been in for one day or many days. The only way she knew it was night time was when no light came in as the woman came back to take the lamp away.
“Glory,” she said. “I’m Glory.” That was the white woman’s name. She wasn’t much bigger than Rosa, maybe not that much older. She was small and thin, with wrists not much bigger around than bones, with cheeks of the same cut. She was a strange combination of fragile and sturdy. She hadn’t said much, just asked Rosa if she was hungry, brought her something to eat, some kind of home-baked bread, better than what Rosa usually ate, and a whole jug of water. Rosa couldn’t believe how much water she was given. It smelled and tasted funny, but at least they didn’t ration it out.
“Who was the other man?”
“He’s the Pastor,” she said. They sat in the closet one time, knees to knees, facing each other. In the dim light of the lantern her skin, riddled with bug bites and scratches, appeared dull copper, her hair thick, hardware black, long, down about to her shoulders. Her eyes in the little lamp-light were sunken.
“A drug-Padre?” She did her best with English. It was still clumsy.
“Drug?” Glory repeated, puzzled. “He’s our protector, talks God to us.”
“Why he keep me in the closet?”
“Nobody can know you’re in here.”
“Don’t they hear the addict screaming?”
“Pastor told them it’s my husband, that he had the fever.”
“Everybody believes what Pastor says?”
“Sort of,” Glory replied. “He scares a lot of people. He has the power to scare. But he doesn’t scare everybody. Not Elder Oughta. This is the kind of mistake he’s been waiting for.”
“Who’s Elder Oughta?”
“My father,” Glory said, and looked ashamed of it. “The most powerful man in town.”
“What kind of mistake?”
Glory glared at the floor. “You,” she said, and obviously felt bad for saying it.
“What me?” Rosa demanded, putting her hand up to her chest. “I din’ do nothing!”
“If Elder knew Pastor had taken in a couple of spiggers without telling him, he just might hang him from a tree.”
Rosa understood. “How I get out of here?” she asked. If someone would hang the Pastor, they’d do much worse to her.
But Glory looked up, her face betraying her thoughts. “I have to go,” she said.
“Wait!” Rosa said, too loud. “Don’t leave me here!”
“You have to be quiet!” Glory hissed, her finger on her wide lips. “Don’t you understand? Or we could all die!”
Rosa nodded, chastened. “I understand.”
Glory left without another word, didn’t look back, and in the dark, only the click of the door was proof that she’d ever been there.
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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