Story Excerpt Sunday: From Ardent Forest by Nancy Jane Moore

Ardent ForestArdent Forest

by Nancy Jane Moore

The late afternoon sun caught the gold mirrored glass in one of the dozens of tall buildings that stretched to the south. In that moment it was possible to imagine a bustling downtown, one where deals were made on the upper floors and people in search of a good time overflowed the bars and restaurants at ground level.

But as the Earth continued its inexorable rotation, the illusion vanished, leaving in its wake a canyon of decaying structures. The windows catching the sun were mostly broken—in a world without enough electricity to run air conditioners, hermetically sealed buildings are no longer desirable, even if holes let in bugs. Weeds grew in every crack in walls and pavement.

A hot wind blew in from the east, bringing with it the stench of an overflowing garbage dump. Rosa slapped at a mosquito on her neck. She was sitting on the Heroes of the Alamo Memorial, watching the progress of the sun over old downtown. She ran her finger over the carved name of William Barret Travis. What makes someone a hero, she asked herself? Dying honorably, probably. Or dying in circumstances that some later storyteller could define as honorable. Surely there must be some form of heroism that didn’t require death, she thought, but hanging around and being polite to your mother’s enemies probably wasn’t it.

Her fingers caught on a length of vine that had wrapped itself around the pink granite columns. The stalk was as thick as her thumb. Grabbing hold with both hands, she gave it a savage yank, breaking free a six-foot length. It reminded her of a whip. She cracked it against the rock. Whap! Leaves flew. She liked the sound, so she did it again.

“Goodness,” said Cecily, who was sitting on the cracked steps that led up to the memorial. “You’re so violent today, my Rosa. What’s bugging you?”

Rosa snapped the vine in the air. “Someone should cut back all these vines and weeds,” she said, extending the arm that held the vine to indicate the larger area. Once there had been a manicured lawn, with trees and bushes carefully arranged, but now the vast grounds looked like an abandoned lot and potholes had torn the expansive U-shaped driveway into a country road.

“It would give my father’s sycophants something useful to do,” Cecily said.

“As if those assholes could do something useful.” Rosa snapped the vine again.

“You’re not angry about gardening.” Cecily stood up and put an arm around the other young woman. “Come on, sis. What’s the matter?”

Rosa took Cecily’s hand and squeezed it. She stared up at the huge granite building that sat in the center of the overgrown grounds, watching as it turned pink in the fading light.

“I should have gone with my mother. I don’t belong here without her.”

“Old news, that. You were only twelve when she left, and how could she have taken you, not knowing where she might end up?”

“Your father hates me. Every time he looks at me, he sees my mother.”

“He doesn’t hate you,” Cecily said. Her voice lacked conviction. She hugged Rosa tighter. “And what would I have done without you?”

The two young women—both just turned seventeen—made a study in contrasts. Cecily’s pale ivory arm snaked around Rosa’s light brown shoulder. Black hair curled around Rosa’s face, while Cecily’s white-blond tresses trailed down her back. Rosa was the taller by six inches, and the tank top and shorts she wore showed off the chiseled muscles she had developed running miles around the decaying city and playing judo with the Governor’s guard. Cecily, clad in a lacy cotton dress, had curves in all the traditional places.

“What would I do without you?” Cecily said again.

Rosa squeezed her hand more tightly. “I didn’t want to leave you then. Still don’t. But my mother …”

“When I inherit the governorship, it’s yours. That will make it right.” She nudged Rosa. “Come on, sis, what do you say? No point in being gloomy on such a lovely spring evening.”

Rosa laughed. “All right. For you I will try to be cheerful.” She threw the length of vine into the bushes. The two of them locked arms and made their way toward the steps that led into the building.

“What do you think of falling in love, sister?” Rosa asked in a deliberate effort to be frivolous.

“It’s a good sport, so long as you love no man in earnest.”

“What?”

“Once you give your heart to a man, that’s the end of it. Let him desire you, but never let him know for sure if you care.”

“A cynical view.”

“But a practical one.”

They came to the head of the steps and passed into the building. The foyer opened onto a great rotunda. They stood on the star patterned into the floor—still visible despite many cracks in the tile—and stared at the ceiling three hundred feet above. As girls they had raced up the rickety stairs that led to the pinnacle and told each other stories about all the people who leaped to their deaths from the topmost point. Like most violent stories told by children, theirs exaggerated the number of suicides.

Rosa never tired of looking at the ceiling, though she had lived here all her life. It had been a lonely childhood, until Cecily had come with her father. Rosa and Cecily had served as flower girls at the wedding of their respective parents and had been inseparable ever since. That Cecily’s father, tiring of his role as consort, had seized power and forced her mother into exile did not make Rosa love the other woman less.

Author Bio:

Nancy Jane Moore jumps around within the speculative fiction genre. Her work ranges from straightforward science fiction to fantasy to slipstream and varies in length as well as subject.

She has published five books with Book View Cafe and has also published with PS Publishing and Aqueduct Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and in magazines ranging from the National Law Journal to Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Nancy Jane has trained in martial arts for over thirty-five years and holds a fourth-degree black belt in Aikido. After many years in Washington, D.C., she now divides her time between Austin, Texas, and Oakland, California.

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Story Excerpt Sunday: From Ardent Forest by Nancy Jane Moore — 2 Comments