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Glory obriens history of.., p.16
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.16

           A. S. King
 
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  I wanted to look up the USS Pledge.

  I wanted to look up squatters’ laws in Pennsylvania.

  Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  Ferret Company will fail. Night after night, the man in the red pickup truck will return to headquarters and tell Nedrick the Sanctimonious that exile forest camps are empty. They will not know about the tunnels.

  While Nedrick tries to maintain his failing campaign, his New America will crumble. Breeding camps will fall mere months after being established, residents burning them as they escape. The New American Army will be divided. Some will follow because they are frightened. Some will defect. Some will be murdered by the Sniper.

  The Sniper will know where to find them—in groups. She will know of their meetings and their hideouts. She will arrive in just the right spot behind enemy lines from underground.

  The exiles will have decided, after years in the trees, that tunneling is their only hope. Or their downfall. They won’t be sure. But they have nothing to lose, so they will dig.

  The Sniper looks familiar to me from the back. She wears boots that have a hole in the right sole. She usually has dirt all over her. She’s intriguing.

  Minesweeper

  So, the USS Pledge was one of two minesweeper ships. It was either one that sank during the Korean War or it was one that fought in the Vietnam War and was eventually sold to Taiwan in 1994 for $21,263.80.

  When I looked up squatters’ rights, I didn’t plan on finding anything. I’d only ever heard the term referring to abandoned houses in the city. Crack houses, mostly. But I learned that squatters’ rights do exist in Pennsylvania. If a person lives on or uses land for twenty-one years without being served a legal document from the owner, then they can put in a claim and can, in a court, be awarded the land.

  Jasmine Blue Heffner was smart. She was probably writing her claim to my land as I sat in my room writing the history of the future and reading about naval ships. But from what I read, all Dad had to do was send her a registered letter to let her know that he knew she was trespassing and she couldn’t take the land from us.

  And so I wrote the letter right then.

  I used an online example.

  Dear Jasmine Blue Heffner, You are trespassing on my land at 33 Blue Pond Way and have been since June 1995. If you do not cease and desist I will file a trespassing action against you. Love, Glory O’Brien.

  I printed the letter, folded it, and put it on my desk where the fifty-thousand-dollar check had lain only days before.

  Ellie came over after lunch. I told her I was going to the library that afternoon to research the first Civil War and figure out how we might be able to stop the second one. This was a lie in case she wanted to hang out. I was really great at lying to Ellie now. I didn’t even have to look away.

  “Why are you so interested in this war, anyway? It’s all in our heads, you know. It’s all made-up crazy shit from the petrified bat.”

  “I don’t know,” I answered. “I guess I’m not sure.”

  “You’re not sure the hallucinations we’ve had since we drank a dead bat are real?”

  “Some of the stuff I’ve seen is real.”

  “Like what?”

  “Most of the past stuff. Like my dad’s family and history. And Rick—you know. The kids. And all kinds of shit has been real.”

  “But the future stuff could be bogus.”

  “Why would it be?”

  “Why wouldn’t it be?” she asked, snarkily.

  “Is there a problem?” I asked. “Because I’m pretty sure everything was fine this morning and now you’re acting like I’m a big pain in your ass and you know, that’s fine, but if you could just say it, that would be better.”

  She took a dramatic breath. “Sorry.”

  “So?”

  She breathed dramatically again. “That thing you told me before. About us not paying you rent. Is that really true?”

  “Yeah.”

  “We’re just, like, freeloading?”

  “I guess. I’m not sure what that means,” I said. “I mean, I know what freeloading means, but I’m not sure what the arrangement was. It’s probably nothing to worry about.”

  “Shit. Your mom must have been a nice lady to give all that to Jasmine,” she said. “She never talks about it, you know.”

  My brain said, I’m sure she doesn’t. My mouth just stayed quiet.

  “It must be hard to lose someone like you guys lost her,” she said.

  I was glad she said it. Finally. But I also knew it took her until we were seventeen to say it, and that was the best she could do. I decided to end it right there. In my head, we were no longer friends. We could appreciate the years we had. We could appreciate our past. But she wouldn’t be in my future. I had control over that.

  Free yourself. Have the courage. You know?

  Past doesn’t always have to be the present.

  Present doesn’t always have to be the future.

  Beer

  Once Ellie left, I went inside and flopped myself on the big green chair across from the couch and watched Dad working. He muttered to himself about dumb callers and celebrated when he got a client off a call. He winked at me a few times. The air-conditioning was cranked to arctic.

  “You need me, Cupcake?”

  “Only when you have a second,” I said.

  He typed in some stuff and said, “Once I get this woman her link, we’ll be good to go.”

  “Cool.”

  I had my History of the Future book with me and reread my chapter about the Sniper that I’d written that morning. I was still intrigued. Something about her made me think she would be the one in the tunnel with the USS Pledge guy’s descendant. Maybe she’d be my daughter or my granddaughter or something.

  “Everything all right?” he asked, still waiting for a beep from his computer to say that the client was gone.

  “Yeah. Just a few more questions,” I said.

  He didn’t look scared this time. The last two times, he was scared.

  Maybe the talking was helping him, too. We had waited thirteen years.

  When he was done sending the link and the beep sounded, he put his computer down, got up and grabbed himself a microwaved burrito and a small bowl of tortilla chips and sour cream. He also grabbed a beer.

  He didn’t ever drink beer.

  I was so shocked I said, “Beer?”

  He chewed on his sour cream–dipped burrito and said, “You told me I should try new things.”

  “Did I?” I remembered telling him I wanted him to paint again. I didn’t remember anything about beer.

  “You don’t want one, do you?”

  Beer reminded me of last Saturday night and the bat. I would probably never drink it again. “No thanks.”

  “So what’s up?” he said. “UPS man brought your darkroom stuff today.” He pointed to the once–dining room table. “I got you three sizes of paper. I wasn’t sure if you wanted to go to sixteen by twenty or not, but what the hell, right?”

  “Thanks,” I said. And then I went into my pocket and got the letter. “I did some research today. I think you need to know about this.” I handed him the letter and he started reading it. “If we don’t send her a letter now, she could take the land from us. I don’t think we should let her have it. I don’t care if it breaks me and Ellie up.”

  He finished reading it and then he read it again. I could see his reading eyes start back at the top left of the paper.

  “Obviously, you’d have to sign it,” I said. “It’s not my land.”

  “Shit, kid. I can’t do this.”

  I gave him the WTF? face.

  “I hate confrontation. I hate Jasmine. Mixing the two is just too much. I mean, for me, you know?”

  “They can take the whole place from you. The house, the land, the barn. All of it. Like—not too long from now, either. Maybe a year? Whatever is twenty-one years from when you gave it to them.”

  He turned this over i
n his head and made a few grunty noises in his throat. “I’ll think about it,” he said, and he dropped the letter onto his lap.

  I just looked at him. He was sloppy. Clearly, one beer was his limit.

  “I don’t get why you’re afraid of her,” I said.

  He shook his head. “I’m not afraid of her,” he said. “It’s her home. It’s where she raised her kid. I mean, how would I feel if someone took this place away from me? I couldn’t do that to another person.”

  “You paid for this place,” I said.

  “Your mother paid for it. I didn’t have a pot to piss in.”

  “So then sign the deeds over to me and I’ll kick her ass off,” I said.

  He eyed me suspiciously.

  I eyed him suspiciously.

  “Is something going on between you and Ellie? Is she getting on your nerves or something? You can just ignore her, like I ignore them all. You don’t have to hurt anybody,” he said.

  “I don’t want to hurt anybody. I just want what’s ours. It’s important.”

  Dad frowned. “I didn’t raise you to think like that.”

  “California, remember? The Virgin Islands?” I said. “You can’t sell this place without taking the land back.” I looked around the room. I saw the art. The TV. The couch. His tie-dyed T-shirt. I saw the new darkroom supplies on the table, waiting to be exposed and developed. “I want us to get on with our lives, Dad. I want us to be what Mom would have wanted us to be. You painting, me growing up and having a life. Not stuck in neutral. Not just sitting around eating microwave dinners,” I said. “I want to go to college. I want to be somebody. I want to do cool shit.”

  He stared at me and looked a bit shocked. Or happy. Or thoughtful.

  “So think about it, okay?” I pointed to the letter on his lap. “I know it seems wrong. I know it seems…”

  “Vindictive?”

  “Yeah. But it’s not. It’s not even mean. Do you know what’s mean? Squatting on someone else’s land for nineteen years and never even thanking them for it. What’s mean is knowing you can steal it if you wait them out. That’s mean. This is hard and seems mean, but it’s not mean.”

  “It’s a lot of things.”

  “Just think about it,” I said.

  “Okay.”

  I took my new boxes of paper to the darkroom and I didn’t print anything. I just sat there on a stool and looked around. I looked at the tooth and I wanted to touch it, for some reason. It was part of Darla. I could tell it things. It could keep me strong as I wrote another entry in The History of the Future.

  I stood on the stool and untacked it from the ceiling and when I sat back down, I took off the message—Not living your life is just like killing yourself, only it takes longer—and I tacked that to the door. I cupped the tooth in my hands. Someone had drilled a tiny hole through the tooth and strung the red thread through it. The roots were long and chunky and ugly.

  All the rest of her had been cremated and saved for Dad’s ashes so they could be scattered together in the Caribbean Sea, where they’d honeymooned. I didn’t have anywhere to visit when I felt like crying about it. I didn’t have a gravestone to hug or a place to leave flowers. So I held the tooth and had an imaginary conversation with Darla.

  ME: Why shouldn’t I kick them off the land?

  DARLA: Because then Jasmine would win.

  ME: What would Jasmine win?

  DARLA: She’d be the ultimate nonconsumerist. She’d be the ultimate hippie.

  ME: Are you fucking kidding me?

  DARLA: No.

  ME: She’s a parasite, Mom.

  DARLA: She’s a very smart parasite, then.

  I went back upstairs and flopped on the green chair again. Dad looked up from his laptop.

  “Is this some endurance test of hippieness? Like, if you ask for your own land back, that will be you being a consumerist and she will win or some shit?”

  He cocked his head. “A little bit, yeah.”

  I looked at him. First, I wondered if the imaginary conversation I’d just had with Darla was really Darla. I was pretty sure it wasn’t. I just think like Darla.

  Oh well.

  Then I got a transmission from Dad.

  He will be a very old man when he dies. I will be with him. I will be pretty old too. He will hug me and tell me he’s proud of what I’ve done. I will be wearing a headband.

  This was huge. It nearly made me cry on the spot. I was going to grow old? Like old-old?

  The headband thing bothered me. It looked like I was wearing it as a bandage, not as a fashion accessory.

  “You’re looking at me like I’m crazy,” Dad said.

  “You are crazy.”

  He shook his head.

  “I read all about that law this morning,” I said. “She’s going to win everything. The land, the house, the barn. After all that, she’ll finally have you, like she always wanted you. I don’t think Mom would be happy about that at all. Consumerist or nonconsumerist.”

  “I gotta get back to work,” he said.

  I went back to my room and I opened my sketchbook.

  I paged to Empty Jar.

  I asked myself, “What will you put in your jar, Glory?”

  Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  The Sniper will almost kill Nedrick the Sanctimonious twice. Once as he drives in his best friend’s red pickup truck. And the second time, it will be near his home, and he will send dogs in the direction of the shot.

  The Sniper will make it out alive, but the dogs will discover the tunnel.

  During the next week, the government’s army will take back most of its states and the residents will be happy. They will be freed from the camps. Children will be reunited with their mothers. Wives will be reunited with their husbands.

  Ferret Company will be dismantled. K-Duty will cease. All able-bodied New American men will be commanded to report to the last state ruled by Nedrick the Sanctimonious and will amass for one final battle, which they know they will lose, but they will do it anyway.

  Exiles will start the long walk home. They will look like ghosts—withered by three years of hunger and war. The children will stay chillingly quiet. The Sniper will hide in the tunnels with her rebels. Her husband will plant explosives under enemy territory. She will clean her rifle. They will wait in silence as troops march above their heads. They will wait until the right moment. Until they are sure.

  How’s Glory?

  Ellie called me at six that night and said she needed my help with the chickens because she didn’t have enough time and she’d miss going to her own star party if she didn’t get her chores done. [Insert laugh track laughter.] I’d been napping, so her call annoyed me, but I got up eventually and walked across the road and marveled at the sunset.

  Some people think all sunsets are colorful, but they aren’t. Some sunsets are more colorful than others. This one was particularly colorful. It started with the blue sky, changed to green and then purple and then pink and then orange and deep red just over the horizon. It might have been the most colorful sunset I ever saw.

  I did not know it would be the last sunset I saw as Max Black the bat.

  But maybe that made it what it was.

  I ran into Jasmine first.

  “How’s Glory?” she asked.

  I looked at her. Right through her. “Glory is awesome. How’s Jasmine?”

  She seemed surprised at my confidence. “Jasmine is just great,” she said. “But she has to go and unlock the drum shed.”

  They had a shed for drums. Surely a nonconsumerist drum shed would be not a drum shed and no drums because they are possessions and all possessions are bad? Maybe I needed to reexamine what nonconsumerist really meant. Or maybe Jasmine did.

  When I found Ellie, she was already done cleaning out the chicken pen. She laid down wood shavings and mixed a pile of them with straw and then she spread the whole pile out on the floor and sprinkled it with some weird powder that helps chickens not hav
e mites.

  Communes. The ripest place in the world for parasites, I guess.

  As we walked toward her house I noticed that the star party didn’t even seem to be set up yet—no tables, no stools. Not even a fire.

  Ellie and I washed our hands in the outdoor sink and she said she had to go inside for a minute and asked me to wait.

  Rick walked up to me as I was drying my hands on my shorts.

  “She says she has a boyfriend,” he said. “Jasmine won’t like that.”

  “Jasmine? Or you?” I asked.

  Then I looked at him. Transmission from Rick: His grandfather was on board the USS Pledge when it hit a mine and then sank in Wonsan Harbor, Korea, in 1950. He and his shipmates were rescued by another boat, but he’d been in the wrong part of the ship when the mine hit and he’d taken a huge chunk of steel into his backside. By the time he was released from the VA hospital back home, he’d gotten the last rites twice, been told he’d lose both legs, and was prepped for a short life in a wheelchair before a certain death from an infection he couldn’t kick. The man would live for seventy-four more years, until he was ninety-three years old. He would love the calzones they made in the food court at the local mall.

  BOOK FOUR

  Remnants of the future

  The process of growing up is a little like being on a runaway train. There is nothing you can do about it once it starts, and it starts when you’re born. The bat had no say in the matter. We had no say in the matter. You have no say in the matter.

  Who knew?

  Ellie came out of her house, glared at Rick, who walked away the minute she did, and asked, “Do you have a minute?”

  “I’m here, aren’t I?” I looked around. We seemed to be the only ones there. The drum shed’s doors were closed. Lights seemed to be on in most of the RVs out back. Maybe Jasmine had called off the star party. I looked at the sky. Clear. I looked back at Ellie.

 
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