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23. Try her perfect biscuits
Carmen is conscripted into Shonda's army.
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[This is a serialized novel, chapter by chapter. You can read the previous 22 chapters here. A new chapter will be delivered every week.]
The trail was rocky, muddy in spots. Carmen hated being forced to hike like this, and she didn’t like hanging out with these people. There were about 11 women, all told, lined up on this trail, but you’d have spotted Shonda as the leader even if she’d been in the center of a crowd of thousands. Your eye naturally fell to her, alone. You had no choice but to follow.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was about six feet tall with long, black hair interwoven with purple cloth in several ropy braids that fell past her shoulders, with green eyes that made you come up short. And the panthers tattooed on her biceps – both of them, right and left, like they were circling her, guarding her. No one was ever going to mess with this woman.
She was the type of person who took over a gathering whether or not she was invited, the type who never had to cook but always ate a wonderful meal. You’d feed her the best food you had. You’d feed her everything you’d been saving. You’d say, “Look at her, she’s the boss.” Then she’d come into the kitchen and tell you she’s figured out a way to make biscuits without oil, because of course you had none, and then she’d show you how she did it. What? You cook? Pretty soon, the perfect biscuits would be coming out of the cast iron skillet she’d set, covered, on the fire. And they were better than any biscuits you could have made. Ever.
And you’d say, “Fucking Shonda,” and just shake your head in amazement -- but Carmen wasn’t about to say anything right now. She didn't want Shonda clocking her up the side of her head.
Even though she led this pack, Shonda held back in the column, about 6th in line, protected on the front flank by several resolute looking women, each of them with long brown hair that blew here and there. Carmen walked behind Shonda as they neared the summit of the first mountain, her eyes just level with the musculature of her back. Quite impressive. Kind of scary too.
They’d left the men, the “warriors,” behind in the scruffy little village. Carmen had no idea where they were going. She’d asked a few too many times.
“To Camp Shut Up,” one of Shonda’s aides said. “Please.”
They came across a guy clearing brush and digging a rain ditch along the side of the trail, to keep it from flooding.
“That’s good,” Shonda said. “Thank you. But we need to pass, so please get out of our way.”
“Just a minute,” he said, obstinately continuing to dig and block the way. “I’ll be done here in a second.”
“No, you’ll be done here now,” said Shonda.
With that she picked him up by the scruff of his sweatshirt, like he was a little puppy, and set him on the trailside before he could say a word.
“Damnit,” he said.
“We’ll be out of your way in a minute,” said LaShonda.
The guy didn’t say another word. Lucky for him, Carmen thought. She had a hard time keeping up with the column, but she had no choice, really, given that the six women following her were pushing – literally pushing. They almost knocked her over a few times. Once, they stopped for water and some of the women leaned tenderly on each other as they rested on the side of a downed log.
One, a freckled redhead named Tony, walked ahead of Shonda, but kept turning back towards Carmen, looking her up and down, which made Carmen uncomfortable. She didn’t know what to think.
“You’re rich, you look rich,” the woman said.
That guy on the trail, those men who’d kidnapped her, they suddenly seemed like ages ago, and Joe and Sarah seemed like even ages more. With each new ascent, each new moment spent following Shonda, Carmen felt that the old world was becoming something new.