Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
Rosa’s body was rigid. She was certain that, should she move, they would pull her away from the trees and grab her too.
Jeremiah resisted, of course. He protested, he cried, he rocked and pulled.
The two other men held him fast. The first man in the tattered uniform pulled Jeremiah’s hand out away from his body. He slowly brought it palm down upon the courthouse stairs.
The man with the large gut approached. Rosa could not see what he was carrying until he held it high, a carpenter’s hammer.
Jeremiah’s cries grew louder now as he looked at the stone with dread. “No! No no no!” he said, tugging and pulling against the three men who held him fast as the fat man approached.
It was over too quickly once the hammer was slammed down to its target. There was a sickening sound of bone shattering, a panicked, terrified howl, the body of the accused clenched and contracted as the three men jumped away from him.
They left him there to collapse upon the courthouse steps, alone to cradle his shattered hand in his stomach. He could barely cry out, rocked back and forth, his eyes closed.
Slowly the Pastor now turned, and with him turned the entire congregation of people, hat man, uniform and all, leaving Jeremiah behind. They scattered in different directions, as if the young man had been a stone they had thrown in a pond. A small group of them formed a rough line behind the Pastor and headed back up the way from which Rosa had come. She ducked behind the tree, which snagged her with its hooked bark so that she had to twist down to the ground until she could free herself. She felt vaguely like she’d lived this scene before. That’s when she realized it had only probably been a week or so since she and Basil had hidden behind the gravestone, waiting to get inside the drug church. A week! Might as well have been years for all she’d seen since then.
She had a choice. Run further away or follow the pack back to the church. Further away? Where? Into the woods? That had already gotten her lost, and she’d ended up here. The woman, Glory, would still take care of her, she thought, though she might be mad she’d gotten out. Rosa felt a sudden pang of guilt, like Glory was her mother and she’d snuck around. Impatient with her sudden rush of feelings, she focused on the train of people whom she followed at a distance.
They headed back up the street, back through the clouds of gnats and mosquitos, and Rosa followed them, as close as she dared. She didn’t swat the bugs for fear of the noise, not even as they bit her, just spat them out from time to time. The parade continued, silent all the way to the church building.
She waited until they were all inside before she dared creep in herself. Moving silently like a cat, she inched along towards the open double doors, trying hard not to be seen. She could hear a voice, harsh, rough, as if the speaker had something unpleasant in his throat that could not come up and would not go down. He talked around it, through it, and said what he had to say.
“We will all be held accountable when the clock runs out…and that time is coming soon.”
Closer she crept, closer, so she could see the voice, though she knew who it belonged to. The Pastor, the man who had locked her in the closet. And sure enough, there he was, at the pulpit, preaching, while the population of Ascension sat with their backs to her in the water-stained wooden pews that creaked each time they breathed.
“Amen, Pastor,” says someone. And other voices echo like water droplets. “Yes, Lord.” “Amen.”
Where were the drugs? Was he going to talk them into a stupor and then give them the fix? Rosa watched, transfixed, forgetting for a while that she was not peering into an AVE. She was a part of the scene she was witnessing. Touching that scene would not buy her anything. She was already there.
But another sound was competing for her attention, and was catching the ears of those in the pews as well. Rosa had to duck back as they turned around to look.
The Pastor cleared his throat, as if that would help dislodge whatever was in there, and this succeeded in getting the congregation’s attention back for a moment, but the other sound was there, and it was rising, the low moan of the addict. Was that Glory speaking to him, saying “Shh shh?”
“No!” came the voice, distinct, too low to be anyone’s but the addict’s, and everyone turned.
“Let us look at hymn 57 in our hymnals and sing the first, second, sixth and seventh verses.”
There was an instrument of some kind in the corner, leastwise that’s what Rosa thought it was, since she’d never seen one except in a commercial one time, and a woman sat at it, and dropped her hands on the black and white teeth, and strange sounds came out, unearthly, guttural, like the dripping of water into a rusty jug, like the muttering of an uncertain old lady.
Behind her, someone else was playing some kind of rhythm on a homemade drum set, animal skins across some wooden frame. The beat sounded like the skeleton of some commercial she’d heard a million times. Bummmm…bummmmm-bummm…ba-dumm…
She could smell the mold on the pages as they were raised from the pulpit, bird-poop-stained books with leaves that cracked under fingers. Everyone was careful, but there was no saving the books, and there would be no more books coming. Even so, they raised them and they sang, they moaned like weary travelers, they raised their noses and their voices to the ceiling and they sang.
“O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!”
And in the hollows of the commercial they were singing was the echoing reply of the addict from far away, moaning as if to join them in their song. “Nooooooooo,” he mooed. “No commercials!”
“Shhhhhh!” went Glory.
“My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad
the honors of thy name.”
Rosa had never heard a commercial like this, addict or no. Whatever they appeared to want would not appear to them any time soon. It was compelling but confusing to her. The addict’s cries were less distinct now, and more insistent, and drowned out Glory’s protestations into nothing. The congregation got louder too, to shut out the sound.
“Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
your loosened tongues employ;
ye blind, behold your savior come,
and leap, ye lame, for joy.”
And a figure threw himself into the midst of that congregation, a man clothed only to the waist, brown wind-scarred, his arms dotted with needle punctures and scrapes, the addict, screaming, the horror of all in the room registering in shocked pale faces, jaws dropped, Glory tailing, trying to pull him back. “No! No commercials!” he cried in Spanish. “My hands! My hands really hurt! Don’t you understand? I’ve tried everything.”
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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