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She had to decipher the shiny, brilliant thing
Carmen discovers why she has been kidnapped by La Shonda, in Chapter 25 of The Lost City of Desire.
Utopian story in a dystopian world. Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
[This is a serialized novel, chapter by chapter. You can read the previous 24 chapters here. A new chapter will be delivered every week.]
Even though Carmen had been dragged forcefully to Hilltop Farm, as Shonda’s fiefdom was called, she didn’t feel physically deprived. They hadn’t been abusive. She shared an old wooden cabin with Melia and Brie, two of Shonda’s disciples who’d been put in charge of keeping an eye on her. They had the bedroom next to her, and she knew they were lovers because that first night she woke up to sharp exhales and a single palm slapping the wall. That would have been a good time to sneak away, she thought, but she was unsure about what was happening and didn’t want to make things worse for herself. She stayed put. Her bed was soft, and the first night was cool. She had plenty to eat. Nothing to complain about at all – except that she was being held against her will. A prisoner.
She hadn’t seen much of the boss since arriving the day before. She hadn’t done much of anything but sit at the table in front of the shack, just watching the world, which was pretty limited, go by. When the sun rose high she walked with the women to lunch at the common room -- vegetable soup. On the second morning in the compound Melia and Brie woke her early and told her to get dressed, they were taking her for an appointment with Shonda. They walked over to Shonda’s cabin, where Melia and Brie knocked on Shonda’s door and took a quick step back, as if to avoid whatever ballistic would fly their way. A young girl wearing a torn t-shirt, shorts and climbing sandals came to the door, flipping her long black hair back over her shoulders with her hands as she spoke. So beautiful, Carmen thought. “Yes?” the young woman said.
“Hi Marie,” said Melia, as Brie nodded. “She here?”
“Yes, Shonda – she home? We have an appointment, remember?”
“I’ll check the appointment book.”
Melia rolled her eyes.
“Dammit Marie, just let them in and stop with your nonsense,” came a voice from inside.
Marie led Carmen into the dimly lit living room where Shonda sat, holding an egg-shaped stainless steel object about the length of her forearm.
Carmen stood, stiffly erect, conveying certitude, strength – well, that’s what she thought at the time, although anyone could have seen she was nervous as hell. She wanted to be back with Joe and Sarah. She wished she hadn’t stayed at the camp when they went off fishing. She wished she hadn’t insisted on that. She’d only done that because she was jealous of how much her brother liked Sarah. She’d known that was the reason, and she’d felt childish about it, but she’d been completely unable to stop it. Jealousy. She hated it. And seeing it loud and clear right now in Marie’s doltish behavior with Shonda just illustrated the point.
“Sit down,” Shonda said, motioning Carmen over.
Carmen sat on a red leather stool.
“Good,” Shonda said. “Good. I’m sure you’re wondering why you are here today.”
“Today, yesterday and the day before, yes.”
“Well, of course I’m sorry to have to force you to come, but I had no choice. I’ve needed help from a smart person like you -- they told me you had been in the city and now are headed to The West. That’s why you’re here.”
“I’m just a regular person.”
“Not compared to us -- you know a lot. Let’s go outside --- I want to show you this in the light.”
They walked alone to a bench near some trees. Shonda held out the stainless steel egg.
“You know what this is, right?” she said.
Carmen did not have a clue, and shook her head no.
“How old are you?”
“Have you ever been to the other side?”
“You’ve never been over there? What have you been doing?”
“I’ve always lived on our farm, except for a bit of time in New York. Why?”
“You’re on your way to the wall now, aren’t you?”
“I was – until you kidnapped me.”
Shonda ignored this.
“Why would you want to go there?”
“Do you know what goes on over there?”
“You look like someone who would be smarter than this,” Shonda said.
“What, exactly, do you want? Cause I have no idea what you are getting at”
Shonda passed the stainless steel cylinder towards Carmen, who took it with one hand.
“Careful,” Shonda said.
It was remarkably smooth on all sides, with one slight indentation and another area where many sets of fingers had rubbed the shine into a provocation, all without intention.
“What is this thing? Do you know what it is?” Shonda asked.
“Beats me,” Carmen said.
It had the heft of something important, a little weighty, and the balance was perfect. She’d never felt anything quite like it. She looked at all sides, and other than a line that indicated it could be unscrewed, there was no sign of anything, except that it might be a machine of some sort.
“Holy shit,” she said. “I really don’t know.”
“I think it’s something really, really important,” Shonda said.
“Where’d you get it?” Carmen asked.
“Never mind that,” said Shonda.
“Just tell me.”
Carmen rolled the device easily in her fingertips. It was the most beautifully proportioned thing she’d ever held. It gave her a remarkable feeling.
“May I open it?”
“No! You’ll break it! It’s got to be opened by someone who knows what the hell they are doing.”
“I think it’s some kind of machine, like maybe a smart machine,” Carmen said. “And I think it needs electric power, otherwise it is totally useless. Just like all the junk everywhere. New York is filled with this kind of useless stuff.”
“You’re a people who knows. Just by being from New York.”
“Well, I’m not really from…”
“It’s such a dangerous place. I’d never go there. I heard they’d steal the shoes off your feet.”
“To me it didn’t feel any more dangerous than being here with you.”
“That’s a joke, right?” La Shonda said.
Are you kidding, Carmen thought. Are you that nuts? You’re holding me hostage, and you’re talking about danger? She just stared at La Shonda, who smiled and said, “Maybe you’re serious -- I don’t know. I don’t really care. I just want some answers to what this is and how it can work.”
“So what do you imagine it does?”
“That’s the mystery. I think it might be a forecaster -- a way to know what’s going to happen. We just need to figure out how to use it. I just have that feeling -- and my feelings are often right. We need to cross the wall and talk to someone who knows what it’s all about.”
When Carmen asked why she didn’t just go to the other side herself Shonda chuckled and said, “No way. Too dangerous.” Then she sat down on a low boulder, looking perplexed.
She held the silver cylinder and tried to peer into its sealed insides.
“For some reason, I love this thing,” she said.
“It’s my destiny to have this and understand it and figure out how to use it. That I know.”
Carmen felt there was no way she could possibly help her, but she also knew that helping her was the only way she’d get free of her. So she just nodded in agreement.
“I’ll do my best to make that happen,” she said.