Thursday, October 29, 2009

If Orson Can Do it, So Can I!

If you read enough books by Orson Scott Card, you find out that he has a deep love for two places: Brazil and North Carolina. The Wiggin family lives in North Carolina, the Fletcher family moves to North Carolina, the headquarters of the FPE is in Brazil, the earth headquarters of Mikal's empire was in Brazil, and let's not forget that the entire planet of Lusitania is colonized by, you guessed it, Brazilians.

So the question is, Why do these two locations show up so much in Card's work? Well, if you look at the back flap of most of his books, you find out that Card lives in North Carolina. And if you do just a little bit of research, you find out that Card spent his missionary time in Brazil. So these are obviously two places he identifies deeply with, has some knowledge of.

And I'm doing something similar in my book. Throughout, there have been references made to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yes, that's where I live. And here in chapter 21, we have the action shift from Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Israel (The first two I haven't visited, the last I have) to Tulsa! And yes, a fair chunk of the rest of the book takes place there, as well as most of the second book. Yes, I'll be writing about a location I know, so there probably will be a bit more detail in the landscape descriptions. In fact, the locations described in chapter 21, while not being completely accurate to life, are based on areas a few miles from my house. And in fact, the house Rachel goes to live in actually is my house (this will save on location budgets during filming).

Now for a little background on this chapter: 21 was originally a little chunk of story that takes place right at the very end, has Rachel meeting someone she can live with, and sets up a subplot in book two. But as you'll see, this version is very different. Her subplot of creating a new civilisation is now getting much more prominence, and instead of being relegated to a few lines of expository dialog in book 2, Rachel's adventure will now be featured in full.

I had originally (i.e. about two months ago) planned to continue her story in chapter 24, but what started out as the 4-page chapter 22 has now expanded into the well over forty pages chapters 22, 23, 24, and possibly more. It's all one long extended flash-back, and it too was originally just expository dialog (well, narration), and now features extensive character building, discussions of philosophy and themes present in the book, and a bit of an explanation of why Allen, who has popped up on numerous occasions so far, is so darn important. Of course, his full import won't be explained until book 3, so you'll just have to wait :)

In other news: I have swine flu! Woot! I have to say, I'm actually rather proud of this fact. There was so much whining and ant-climax surrounding bird flu and West Nile virus, and now I finally get to be part of the pandemic! Which is actually rather disappointing... It wasn't nearly as life-threatening as everyone made it sound...

Anyhoo, on with chapter 21. As always, please comment!

Chapter 21

Two hours after Rachel arrived in Tulsa the airport was shut down. The official reason given was that there was a high terror threat, and that all air traffic was to cease. But everyone knew the real reason. Every time a television was turned on, every time a newspaper was read, every time AmeriSearch was used, it was obvious. The name was whispered from person to person, shouted in debates, mildly discussed in homes. It was history in the making: Terstein’s War; the Second American Civil War, the E.H.U.D. War.
And as Rachel stood outside the airport, waiting for a taxi, and then driving to a cheap motel, and then sitting alone on the musty mattress, she heard another name, an identity, a string of facts, quoted endlessly from every possible source of news: John Donalson, aged 37, wanted for causing one hundred and thirteen deaths, considered a traitor and public enemy number one. Whereabouts unknown, considered armed and extremely dangerous; do not approach under any circumstances.
All along the highway, from hundreds of electric billboards, from window displays of televisions, from the bottom corner of every computer screen running AmeriSearch, the same face, the same mug shot, staring blankly into the camera: bald, clean-shaven, the only hair two thin eyebrows perched over a pair of thick glasses.
By the time Rachel had settled down for the night, she had seen the face nearly a thousand times. In the first hotel she stopped at, the man at the font desk had asked her for identification and then stared in awe at her driver’s license. “You’re not related to him, are you?” he asked, nodding towards the television blaring in the guest’s lounge.
Rachel had immediately gone back to the taxi.
The next two hotels she stopped at likewise demanded identification before renting her a room, despite the fact that she was paying in cash.
Eventually the taxi driver, staring longingly at the quickly growing numbers on his meter and clearly having an internal struggle between greed and altruism, had offered to drive Rachel to a part of the city further to the west, heavily populated with small motels that didn’t look too closely at its clientele’s credentials.
So Rachel stayed that first night in Tulsa in a damp, ancient-looking room on the outskirts of town.
While she tried to sleep, Mistlethwakey’s instructions kept coming back to her. She had already done the first and, in her mind, most difficult part: she had abandoned everything she knew, everyone she cared about, and gone to Tulsa.
Not that there was much left for her back in Philadelphia to know or care about. There was Tisha and… well, there was Tisha. Her father was too mad at her know, her mother was too drunk, her uncle was… wherever he was… And Wayne. Wayne was gone.
As much as Rachel had hated Wayne, she had also loved him. He had been there for her when the fighting between her parents had been at its worst, had been there to help her through the divorce, had held her, had loved her, had done everything he could to distract her from the pain at home. Their romance had been short but sweet.
They met at an open-air concert at a park, had gone to get hotdogs together, had stayed up all night talking to each other online, had become friends, had gone to more concerts—
Every time she left his company, every time she was at home with her bitter father, or visiting her drunken mother, she had been alone, isolated. Everyday she spent at school, bored out of her mind by the droning of the stupid teachers. But after school… after school there was always Wayne, always ready to take her mind off of pain, to show her a good time. And after being shown enough good times, Rachel had decided to show him a good time, to show him her gratitude, to finally give in to his thinly veiled sexual overtures—
And once she had, he had changed. All of his pretense of truly loving her was gone. All of the time he had spent with her had evaporated. He suddenly had extra hours at work, suddenly had to help a friend he had never mentioned to her before, suddenly had to be anywhere that she wasn’t.
Except when he needed something. When his car broke down, only she could help him, when he owed someone money and was a bit strapped for cash, only she could give him what he needed. And when he had no one else to go to, no one else who would have him, it was only she that he turned to because, as he said, he loved her, and knew that she was the only one he needed.
And slowly it had dawned on her: he’s using me. He had been patient, persistent… but when he had finally gotten what he had always wanted, had experienced her body… he left. He moved on to the next thrill. He only needed her when he had no back-up, no one else to satisfy his desires…
And now he was gone…
Rachel didn’t sleep that night; she mourned over her lost life. And when she left the hotel at six o’clock the next morning, she was different; the old life was behind her. She was no longer Rachel Donalson, irresponsible teen; she was Rachel Donalson, savior of civilization.
Unfortunately, she had no idea about what to do next…
Mistlethwakey had told her “to settle in, find friends.” Was he speaking literally or metaphorically? Rachel looked down at herself: plain, thin, grubby clothes. Not the kind of person to head a government. She would need friends. So, literally, then. Now what did he mean by “settle in?”
She decided that the best way to settle in was to find a job and a low-rent apartment, somewhere where she could be found if the president came looking. If she really believed Mistlethwakey anyway…
The best way to start looking was to find an employment office, or a temp agency. Anything, really, even a women’s shelter. Of course, she would only use that as a last resort. But she couldn’t use any of these options if she couldn’t get into the main part of town.
The streets outside the motel were mostly deserted, so there was little hope of hitchhiking; no one wanted to be out on a day like today… a day of war…
Oh, well, she would call for a taxi and—she didn’t have her phone with her. Rachel dug her hands into her pockets, pulled open the small tote bag she had bought in the airport gift shop— nothing. She could have sworn she had brought her phone with her when she left Wayne’s apartment. She could have sworn that she actually used it—no, the taxi that took her to the motel last night had been one of many that were already parked outside of the airport. She hadn’t called for it after all.
Glaring blankly at the slowly rising disk of the sun, Rachel grumbled to herself, thought about her lack of sleep from the night before, and walked back into the motel.
“Excuse me,” she said to the man at the front desk, trying to sound as cheerful as possible. “Would you happen to have a public internet terminal nearby?”
The man snorted and scratched absently at his bulging stomach. “In this dump? ****, no. Why d’you need it, anyway?”
Rachel felt her hopes rush out, but decided to answer the man, incase he had any useful information. “I’m trying to find, I don’t know, something like a temp agency nearby?”
“Temp agency?” The man covered his mouth and tried to hold back a belch. “Oh, sorry, haven’t been feeling to good lately. No, there’s no temp agencies around here, you’ll have to go across the river.”
“Are there any busses stopping near here?” Rachel could feel a small amount hope trickling back in; there might be possibilities across the river… wherever that was…
The man wheezed out a low, raspy chuckle. “Busses? Don’t you know there’s a war on? The city’s suspended everything but power and water, and who knows how much longer that’ll last?”
“I, uh, I hadn’t realized that things had gotten so bad…” She really didn’t want the conversation to head in this direction.
“Well, not around here, things haven’t,” the man admitted. “But there’ve been riots in New York, Washington, LA; most big towns. They say that the national guard’s been called out in El Paso. The Mexicans declared their independence, or something.”
“Uh-huh…” It was long past time to finish this conversation. “Look, I need to call a cab, and I lost my phone, so I was wondering if I could—“
The man held up a hand. “Sorry, can’t help you there. Manager says I can’t let guests use the phone.”
“Oh, come on! I just need to call information and—“
“Rules are rules.”
Rachel sighed and stepped back. She had to get to a phone somehow…
Taking a deep breath, disgusted with herself that she would even consider this course of action, Rachel turned her thoughts back to Wayne, how he had been less than twelve hours ago, his body slumped on the couch, the head mostly gone…
“Please,” Rachel said, her voice almost a whisper, tears welling up in her eyes. “Please. I-I—last night my… my boyfriend—we were at a party and he, he—“ She finished off the sentence with a body-wracking sob.
“Oh, honey,” the man said, concern on his face, “that’s just… the biggest load of bull**** I’ve ever heard. Get out now before I call the police.”
The tars instantly stopped. “Yeah, right, lard ***, like the police would come for you.” She changed her voice to affect some of his southern drawl. “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”
And that’s how Rachel wound up outside a second time, with no phone, no hope, and now no motel room. All that was left to do was walk and hope that she could find someone who did have a phone she could borrow.
She was about a mile away from the hotel, walking slowly along the side of a highway, when she realized that she should have just bribed the man. She had money; she could have gotten as much time as she needed. Too late for that, though. She had already offended him too much, and besides she was too far away.
She had begun this walk in the hope of reaching a small strip mall that she had seen the night before, but when she reached it, it was deserted. Every store was closed, locked and abandoned. So she continued, moving on to the next cluster of buildings, only to find them closed as well. The people here must be taking the war seriously…
After about an hour of walking, Rachel sat down and took stock of her situation. She was cold, tired, hungry; every store she passed was locked, and she had seen only seven cars on the highway, none of which had stopped when she tried to wave tem down…
Maybe this is what Mistlethwakey meant, she realized. Maybe he had come to the conclusion that Terstein would start off his war soon, and that people would react so fearfully too it. But he had underestimated Terstein; the war hadn’t been able to wait for two more weeks…
Then where did her school project come into this? He had said that the conditions needed for her government system to work would be present. The lack of commerce today was bad, but it certainly wasn’t post-apocalyptic bad. Rachel swallowed in fear. So things would get worse…
She eventually got moving again, walking along the highway, following its meandering path wherever it would take her. And twenty minutes later, she found signs of life. First, there was the sound of cars, many cars, busily driving around. Second, the highway split off and emptied into a residential street, and she could see the cars and, at the corner of the intersection, a small convenience store. Third, there were people inside.
Rachel quickly hurried off of the highway and went to the gas station. A short musical jingle played to announce her when she opened the door, but no one noticed; everyone was too busy making purchases and arguing with a harried looking clerk.
“Look, I’m sorry,” the clerk yelled in a scratchy voice, “but the card reader won’t work! Cash only!”
A large, heavily muscled man barged through the small crowd around the sales counter and smashed a meaty fist down on the counter-top. “Yeah? And the ATM’s broken, so where do you expect we’re going to get cash?”
“I don’t know! I don’t care! Forty minutes and I’m off!” He turned his attention away from the large man and yelled over the crowd, “I can help the next customer with cash!”
The big man looked as if e wanted to argue, but after a moment he turned and left the store. And so did most of the other customers, although none of them did it gracefully. Most of those who had purchases they wished to make just dropped whatever they had on the floor, leaving a large mess for the clerk. The remaining customers quickly lined up, made their purchases, and then they too left. Soon, it was only Rachel and the clerk left.
“Can I help you with anything, miss?” he asked tentatively.
“Um, well, I was actually wondering if you had a public internet terminal?”
The man was already shaking his head by the time she finished her question. “Nope, sorry, nothing like that. The closest one would probably be the library up the street, but… I’m guessing you’re not from around here?”
“No, I’m from—“ she was about to say ‘Philadelphia,’ but thought better of it, “from out of state.”
“Yeah, you’ll need a card there…”
“Um, do you have a phone I could use?”
“Sorry, customers can only use the store phone for emergencies, and I’m not allowed to have my phone on during my shift. What happened to your phone?”
Rachel decided she didn’t like this man—well, teenager, he couldn’t have been much older than she was—he was asking too many questions.
“I, uh, I lost it at the airport.”
The clerk nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I sometimes wish they had cords so you couldn’t lose them.”
“Uh huh… Look, I really need to call a taxi, and this is the only open store I’ve found all day, and I haven’t been able to get to a phone, and so could you please let me use the phone? I mean, who’s going to find out if you bend the rules, just this one time?”
“My boss goes over the phone records every—“ his jaw lowered perceptibly.
Rachel was holding up a hundred dollar bill, an innocent smile on her face. “I’m sure this could cover the cost of one little phone call? Or maybe even a quick amerisearch?”
The clerk couldn’t take his eyes off the money. “I-I guess, since we’re at war and all… Um, well ,the rules only say that customers can’t use the phone. They never said I couldn’t.”
“Good.” Rachel gently laid the bill on the countertop. “I need a cab.”
“Do you know where you’re going?”
Again, too many questions. “Not exactly… but I think I might go apartment hunting,” she lied, not feeling guilty because it was, technically, true. She would have to go at some point.
“Oh!” The clerk seemed excited. “My neighbor, Abigail, she has a room she’s trying to rent out! It’s not a full apartment, but it’s probably cheaper. Do you want me to call her?”
Rachel almost said no, almost turned down his offer… but he was just so eager, it seemed cruel to deny him a simple phone call. “It’s seven-thirty in the morning,” she finally pointed out.
“She has kids, she’ll be up early.”
“Are schools even open today?”
The clerk shrugged. “Probably not. But Nickelodeon is.”
Rachel sighed and wondered towards the rows of foodstuffs that filled the store. “Yeah, go ahead and call her.”
She spent a few minutes walking along the aisles, occasionally looking at package of something or other, always aware of the clerk in the background, talking to his neighbor.
“Hey!” he called after a while. “She says that if you’re interested, she can come by here and pick you up and show you the room.”
“Oh, yeah, sure, that would be great.”
The clerk relayed the information.
“How far away is she?”
There was the sound of a large car pulling up outside the convenience store and the clerk hung up the phone.
Rachel turned her attention to the front door as it opened and a tall woman, looking to be in her mid thirties, walked in.
The woman, whom the clerk had said was Abigail, glanced briefly around the store, then walked towards Rachel. “So,” she said, sounding a bit tired but trying to hide it, “you’re my perspective boarder.” She stuck out her hand and tried to smile.
Rachel hurriedly shook the offered hand. “Yeah, I’m just looking for a place to stay for a few weeks.”
“Well, good. I think you’ll like the room. It’s a bit small, but it has access to the kitchen, if you don’t eat too much and… I’m sorry, but do I know you from somewhere?”
Rachel felt a stab of panic. “No…”
“Hey, Ed,” Abigail called to the clerk, “does she look familiar to you?”
“Not that I know of. Why?”
“What’s your name?”
Rachel thought of giving a false name, but she wasn’t sure weather or not she had told Ed her name and besides, all of her I.D. was in her name. “Rachel…?” she said hesitantly.
“Ed mentioned you were from out of state. You wouldn’t happen to be from Pennsylvania, would you?”
Rachel was sure that her heart had stopped beating. Her stomach clenched uncomfortably, and her eyes darted towards the front door. She estimated the distance, wondered if se could run that far before these people caught her.
“Rachel Donalson,” she heard Abigail say.
Rachel edged towards the door.
“You know her already?” Ed asked.
“No, of course not. It was on CNN this morning. She’s John Donalson’s niece. Apparently they went to talk with her dad and found out she was missing, and then someone found her boyfriend had been murdered and they ran a piece on—hey, wait, stop!”
Rachel sprinted towards the door, out into the parking lot, into the street—
Why? What was the point. If she had been recognized so easily, she would be caught again. Maybe next time by the police. And no one else was likely to have a room she could rent…
“Rachel, come back! Look, I didn’t mean to scare you!”
Abigail was standing in the parking lot, her hands up in a friendly gesture.
“I know you’ve been through some rough stuff, and I won’t tell anyone where you are, I swear!”
… Settle in, find friends…
Rachel thought about her earlier interpretation of Mistlethwakey’s words. Settling in probably meant finding a place to stay…
“If you want, you can have the first month free!”
And that was certainly something a friend might say…
…begin building that wonderful little government of yours…
And that last part would have to wait.
Everything in Rachel wanted to run, to find somewhere to hide and ignore the world, to suffer in silence… But Mistlethwakey believed in this future of his, in her enough to kill. Wayne had already been sacrificed; she couldn’t let it be in vain.
And she needed to get somewhere calm and stable before her personal thoughts got more grandiose and biblical sounding…
She walked back to Abigail. “I, uh, I guess I can go and see the room…”
“Alright, sure, hop in.” She gestured towards an old van parked next to a gas pump.
Rachel walked around to the passenger side and looked in the rear window. There was car seat lying sideways in the back seat, and small toys and food wrappers were strewn around. So, she really did have kids… a mixed group of them, if the toys were any indication. They got in and drove off. Rachel tried to relax, but she couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. Mistlethwakey’s words seemed to be fulfilled with Abigail, and it all seemed too easy.
Abigail certainly didn’t seem nervous; she kept up a constant stream of conversation as they drove. “I’m so glad Ed called; I saw that piece about you and I just prayed that you’d be okay wherever you were, and here you are! So, I’m guessing you arrived sometime last night? They talked to some people who had been with, with—what’s his name right before he died and they said they had seen you and—“ she cut off when she heard Rachel quietly gasp. “What’s wrong? Is everything— Oh. Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t think, it’s not just the news to you, its—I’ll shut up now.”
“N—“ Rachel coughed and cleared her throat. “No, it’s okay… I, I probably need to talk about it…”
Abigail didn’t respond for a few moments.
“No, it’s okay, really.”
The slowed and stopped at a set of traffic lights.
“Okay, I have a question,” Abigail said hesitantly. “Did you—I mean you must have—did you see who killed him?”
Rachel sighed and watched as another car pulled up beside them, and then made a right turn. “Robert Mistlethwakey,” she mumbled.
“That army guy?!”
“But, but—Why?”
Another car drove past. “That I actually don’t want to talk about.”
“But—but we should tell the police!”
“And get him arrested? Destroy the president’s cabinet? Weaken the command structure at the start of a war?”
Abigail was about to respond, but she shut her mouth and thought. The light turned green. “So, even though a top government guy killed your boyfriend, and your uncle was kidnapped and experimented on, you’re still on the president’s side?”
“This president didn’t do anything. And we ca always vote everyone out in two years. There’s no need for a war.”
“Uh-huh…” Abigail glanced up just as the light was shifting back to yellow. “Oh, ****! Hang on!” She made a very sudden and very sharp left turn.
“Why’d you do that?!” Rachel demanded when she had pulled herself back into an upright position. “There was no one else around! Speaking of which, why are you around?” And how did you get to Ed’s store so fast?”
Abigail shrugged with one shoulder. “I was headed to the grocery store, and I got the call before I got there.”
“Why were you going to the store this early? Would it even be open yet? Or is it one of the twenty-four hour ones?”
No, it’s not open for another two hours,” Abigail said, the barest hints of a forced smile present on her face. She didn’t seem to be entirely comfortable with talking after Rachel let slip who had killed Wayne. “There was a really bad ice storm here a couple of years ago, and by the time I got out to stock up on supplies, everything useful had been bought.”
An idea began forming in Rachel’s mind.
“So I figured, a war might be pretty bad, I’d better have some supplies. So I left the kids at home this morning, and I’m not taking them to school, and I was going to wait at the store until it opened and do some raiding.”
The idea finished forming and took hold.
“But I’ll just wait a little while. I’ve got to get you home to see the room.”
…begin building that wonderful little government of yours…
“No,” Rachel said quickly. “Go ahead to the store.”
“No, that’s okay, I can wai—“
“Now,” Rachel insisted. “We have to get as much as possible. Every non-perishable item we can, and batteries, light bulbs, guns if they have them.”
“Guns? What?”
“Just go to the store!”
Abigail jerked the van into a painfully tight u-turn and headed back towards the traffic lights. “Okay, okay! I’m going back! Now tell me why!”
Rachel pulled the envelope of money out of her tote bag. “Because I have almost five thousand dollars we can use to get everything we need!”
Abigail’s eyes fixed on the envelope and the van swerved a little as she continued driving. “Five thousand…? No, no we don’t need that much. This shopping trip’s just in case, you know, just in case the war gets bad, which I doubt it will!”
“Oh, it will,” Rachel promised. “Something really bad, a complete, world-wide collapse of civilization.”
“You think Terstein’s powerful enough to destroy the world?”
“Not Terstein; something else. Maybe the E.H.U.D.s. All I know is that something bad’s going to happen.
“How do you know?”
Rachel hesitated, unsure if she wanted to say the reason out loud. She doubted weather Abigail would believe her. She doubted if she would even believe… “When… when Mistlethwakey killed Wayne… my boyfriend, I mean… he –Mistlethwakey—said, told me… to come here and… that once I got to Tulsa, I’d have approximately two weeks to settle in, find friends, and begin building my government…”
“What government?”
Rachel took a moment to describe the basics of her Social Units system while they pulled into a mostly deserted parking lot in front of an old super market: the small groups, the communal ownership of resources, individuals buying in votes and shares of resources through labor and even more resources.
“And why would we need this system?”
“Because Mistlethwakey believes that the world’s going to effectively end! And the only way this system could really work was if there were no large governments to interfere with it!”
“And you’re actually going to believe Mistlethwakey? The man who killed your child’s father?”
That hurt. Rachel felt as if she wanted to cry.
“Look, I’m sorry—“ Abigail began when she saw Rachel’s expression. “I didn’t mean—“
“It’s okay,” Rachel said quietly. “But think about this. Maybe Mistlethwakey can see the future. Maybe he’s prescient.”
Abigail snorted. “That’s impossible; no one can predict the future—“
“My uncle can kill a hundred and thirteen people just by thinking about them.”
“So… I’ve found your room. That’s settling in. You’re willing to drive me around at seven thirty in the morning; I think that makes you my friend. And now we’re in the position to buy enough supplies to kick-start the first social unit. I’m building my government.” She looked up at the big empty supermarket. “Do you have any neighbors who would be willing to join us on our mad little venture?”
Abigail turned off the van. “I never said I’d be apart of this.”
“Then were will you be in two weeks when the world burns?”
“Where will you be in two weeks when it doesn’t?”
Rachel smiled. In the returns line, taking back four thousand dollar’s worth of canned beans.”
Abigail sighed and began playing with the keys. I’m really not going to be able to talk you out of this, will I?”
Another sigh. “Well, I guess I can put up with this for two weeks. You’ve been through some rough times, forced out of house and home… It’s the least I could do to let you stay for a while…”
“That’s all I could ask for…” Rachel said as she leaned against the window and quickly fell asleep…

No comments:

Post a Comment