Here is the next bit of Where I’ve Been. I was able to finish it last night. I’m not sure I like it yet, I’m feeling a bit stagnant and must move the plot along. But, as they say, you have to start somewhere. This is just the beginning, and after edits and rewrites, I am sure it will be much better, in my eyes. 🙂
Barley sat on the edge of the stage, thankful to be off his feet, while the entire town erupted at his statement. He glanced over at Chris, who was attempting to calm people back into their seats, and was failing in the din.
Barley put his fingers to his lips and whistled. The piercing sound stopped everyone in their tracks, and he creaked to his feet again, silently cursing the loss of comfort. This was ridiculous, and he had really had enough. It was obvious that the folk here had no idea of what the outside world was really like. He guessed it had been a long time since they had heard a radio broadcast, seen anything on television, seen a traveller who could relay news, or even gotten mail. They had no idea what had happened to their Government, or to the South. It was surprising, in some ways, and not in others.
“Sit down.” He barked, in his best Captain voice.
The entire room turned and went silent.
Please.” He said, more normally. Everyone sat, amid shufflings and murmurs.
“What you know of our world has changed in the years since I left.” He said, and swept his eyes over the congregation. His gaze stopped briefly at Nessa and her family, and she nodded at him, her lips thin, her arms crossed. It gave him strength to keep talking, somehow, so he began to pace, as he did when he had talked to his men. It had always helped him focus.
“There is war. There is disease, there is poverty, homelessness, and hunger. You know all this, because it has been this way for many, many years. Our country has fallen to chaos. That is the reason you have closed your gates to the world.” he said, gesturing around him. “But what you don’t know is that people are beginning to fight back. The United Continental Army, where I was, is a resistance force, fighting the United States Government.”
“Why are they fighting them?” Someone in the audience asked.
Barley threw up his hands. “The way of life for what we once considered ourselves, Americans, is in jeopardy. The Government is centralizing, rounding people up like cattle, sending them to massive camps, and…” He stopped. The next part was hard for him to say. He’d been lucky never to have been rounded up. Some of his friends weren’t.
“And what?” Chris asked quietly.
“Sorting them.” he said soberly. “Citizens are given jobs and relocated into new planned communities, sometimes ripping families apart. Anyone who cannot prove citizenship is deported, anyone who is terminally sick is euthanized, and criminals and the insane are sent into the South.”
“Why?” Mikaela asked next. He turned to her, seeing her hand on her mouth. He’d not wanted to shock people with this hearing, but it seemed he was achieving just that.
“I think, from what information we were given while I was still with the troops, is to curb the spread of disease, keep the peace, and attempt a new order. What it has done, though, is force people to flee, fearing deportation back to where they came from originally, or even death.”
“Where are they going?” someone else asked.
More murmurs followed that statement. Barley had never crossed the border, but he’d been at the edge numerous times. The stories abounded about entire cities of criminals, complete disregard for human life, thousands of stranded groups trying to survive in the desolate landmass that was once a beautiful, warm place to live. He took breath to continue, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
“As you know, it was evacuated and condemned years ago, after the Great Storm. We were all there to see the images on television, and hear the reports of murders and riots. About eight years ago, the Government began a border project. In some places, it was a wall, like in cities. In many places, it is ramparts with barbed wire and land mines. Gates were made at key locations, mostly again, in cities. The rule was, if you went into the South, you never came back out. But now, instead of being a wasteland to avoid, it is a personal prison for the Government, and a terrible, but forced alternative for those who want to avoid a worse fate.”
“Why haven’t they gone North?” another voice in the crowd asked.
Barley simply shrugged. “You need a passport, and immigration papers. Those are hard to get now, and sneaking across the border into Canada is very difficult.”
“Ok, so why haven’t we seen these people? Why haven’t more travellers come to our gates?” London spoke next, Hammond nodding beside him. Barley realized this was turning into more of a briefing session, instead of a hearing on his own fate. He’d expected as much, when he told his story. Part of him loathed being the messenger that was going to break apart this town’s peace. But part of him also realized he was an early warning, which he doubted many of the communes he’d encountered on his travels, would get.
“Most people on this side of the country stick to the coastline, or land their boats in Virginia Beach. Once they reach North Carolina, they cross into the South through the gate where the old Interstate 95 meets the border. If they are coming from further inland, they walk. But most don’t travel South over land. It takes too long, and no cars can make the passage on the roads past Petersburg anymore.”
“How’d you get here then?”
Barley turned to Turner, and he was perplexed at this man’s seeming animosity towards him. He’d have to ask his father what Turner had been through to make him so angry.
“I hitched rides until there were no more roads, and then I walked.”
Chris stood, and looked over the room. Barley realized he looked weary, and worried.
“Thank you.” Chris said, standing. “I think, based on your information, we now have a new, more important problem. If what you say is true, we must prepare for our town to have unwelcome visitors soon.”
“Agreed. But what about Barley. What do we do about him? We haven’t come to a decision on that yet.” Turner said, standing as well, his fists on the table.
Chris looked at both sides of the Elder Council, and they all nodded, seemingly conversing with no words, except for Turner, who looked away from Chris and swallowed, his entire body tense.
“Barley. Based on your knowledge of this new world we find ourselves learning about, I think we should allow you to stay, and help us prepare. Your petition to stay is granted.” Chris said. “Welcome home.”
Barley nodded, and sat back down on the stage as the community erupted around him again.
Nessa lengthened her stride up the street, and waved as he turned towards her. She’d waited for him outside the church, but he had been swamped by people, and she eventually decided to head for home instead of waiting forever and a day and missing her lunch. She was surprised to see him already on his own way when she got around the corner from the church. How’d he escaped everyone?
“Hi.” He said, stopping as she caught up to him, then they walked together.
“Well, that was interesting.” Nessa said, looking at him as they walked. “You must have some amazing stories to tell.”
She caught the sadness in his face before he masked it, brightening, and nodding. It wasn’t all good, she had to remind herself, and they had a lot of preparation to do, if what he had said in the meeting was to be believed. She realized that perhaps he had seen a lot of death, and horrors. Maybe he wouldn’t want to talk about it.
“Well, if you want to.” She suddenly added, then blushed, ashamed at her impetuousness.
“Of course.” Barley replied. “I’ve seen a lot in ten years. Its only natural people want to know.”
The breeze had picked up while everyone had gathered, shaking the trees about, spreading the crisp, dead leaves before it .Nessa watched other people running for their homes, to get ahead of what she assumed was rain, the dark horizon foreboding. It would be an indoors afternoon, for those who could be. This time of year, the rain was always cold, and seeped into your bones. If Nessa could, she would hug the big stove in the kitchen for warmth and do some further baking or preserving to heat up the house. She hated the slow, thick icicles that would wind themselves around her muscles and squeeze, making her shiver and wish for summer, on days like this. Winter was so much warmer, somehow, once snow was on the ground and everything was frozen.
“Join me for lunch, Nessa. I want to spend some time with you before the circus starts.” He said tiredly, but firmly. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to be at the Elder Council’s beck and call while they figure all this out, and I won’t get much leisure time.”
Nessa felt her heart leap, just a little, and tucked her hand through his arm, noticing the thinness of his bicep. He squeezed her hand to his torso, and they turned the corner towards the Benson’s place. Somehow, she felt at ease with him now, knowing what had happened, knowing he wasn’t some criminal, knowing he was back, and wanting to stay. His arm was warming her hand, and she felt quite pleasant walking with him this way.
Nessa looked up at Barley and smiled. He looked down and smiled back, crookedly. He placed his other hand overtop of hers, and for a moment, just a moment, she wondered what it would be like to have his hand there every day, comforting her.
As they stepped into the door, Jessica was busily stirring a spurtle through what looked like a thick, aromatic stew, steam escaping upwards, a halo of fine, curling hair around her face giving her a slightly unkempt look. Nessa breathed in the savory aroma, and took off her coat. Barley hung it on the wall near the door, and as their chairs scraped out from the kitchen island, Jessica jumped, sending the spurtle flying through the air to land on the floor with a wooden clatter, and her hand flew to her chest, her face now startled.
“Oh!” She said, then bent to retrieve it, her cheeks a shade of crimson. “I didn’t see you.”
“Barley quirked an eyebrow, and shook his head. “Sister of mine, you are very, very jumpy. I will have to wear a bell from now on.”
Nessa noticed the way Jessica hesitated while she was washing off the large stir stick, afraid to laugh, or respond. Nessa wondered how much this upheaval was wearing her friend’s nerves. Both of them. Jessica was a shy and quiet young woman, and she’d likely had more attention heaped on her than in the last few years.
“Jess, is that turkey stew?” Nessa said, getting up again and wandering over to the large stock pot. She poked her head over the top of it, and appreciated it once more. “It smells divine.”
Jessica nodded, the spurtle in both hands, knuckles white. “Yes. We had a dinner last week, and I’m making stew to put away.”
“Lovely. May I have the recipe, when you are done? I think this would be fantastic to have for New Years after our big roast.” Nessa said, automatically going to the shelf and pulling down some bowls. She’d been here plenty of times with jessica, and Quisita, and Harriet. All the girls were used to one another’s hones in such a small palce as this. As she opened a drawer for spoons, She saw Jessica dart back to the stove and begin stirring again, her back to her brother.
“Is it ready to sample?” Barley asked, himself moving over to the stove and standing beside his sister. Nessa watched her tense, then attempt to relax.
It hit her. Jess was afraid of her brother. Barley raised a hand to put it on his sister’s shoulder, but then let it drop, seeing the set of his sister’s jaw, and her firm stance, leaning away from him. He looked up and caught nessa’s eyes, and she could see the sadness come back, like he had when she’d mentioned him telling stories.
“It will be another half an hour or so.” Jessica managed to respond, her rythmic stirring not stopping, the spurtle making a dull scrape and thunk on the bottom of the large pot. “I’ll bring some in to you.”
Barley nodded, and moved away, towards the living room, his shoulders slumped, hands in his pockets, his face unreadable. When he was out of the kitchen, Jessica visibly relaxed. Nessa set the bowls and spoons quietly on the table, and went over to her friend, clasping her shoulders with her hands. Jessica stopped stirring and looked up at Nessa.
“Its ok.” Was all Nessa needed to say before Jessica burst into tears and turned into Nessa’s embrace. Nessa stood with her friend, and let her cry. it was obvious no one had thought to make sure jessica was doing ok in all this craziness, and it was wearing on her immensely. Nessa made a mentla reminder to get Harriet and Quisita over here to keep her company in the days to come. they weren’t close friends, since Jessica was a bit of aloner, but female companionship would do the girl some good.
“I’m-I’m sorry.” Jessica blurted out as she dried her eyes. Nessa hugged her tightly for a moment more, and then took her by the shoulders again, looking into her eyes.
“No reason to be.” She said quietly, and attempted a reassuring smile.
“I’m-I’m not used to so many people around, I guess.”
“Its a lot to process isn’t it?” Nessa asked. Jessica nodded. “But don’t be afraid. No one is asking you to be Super Jessica, but, its ok. You know Barley would never hurt you.”
Jessica nodded, and sniffled. “He’s not anything like I remember.”
Nessa thinned her lips, and looked past her friend to the living room, where Barley sat on the couch, leaned over, obviously deep in thought.
“Me neither, sweetie. Me neither.”