I skipped yesterday. Well, i didn’t time travel or anything. I just mean I didn’t write an actual story. I did write. I rewrote several scenes for my novel! And I’m glad I did. But I don’t know if it qualified for Story-a-Day.
So, here’s a very, unedited draft of a beginning (for what it’s worth).
As the end of the world came closer, people gave up their rituals for the dead. A few hardy souls held to tradition, but they found themselves at funerals several times a day. Not everyone possessed enough tears or compassion.
But Ida Wayward Ravenstar had been crying and never stopped. So, the day she came of age, she put her tears to use. Someone had to earn and her parents were dead. Most everyone’s parents were dead by this time. Her older brother was nearly dead, his soul clinging to life in spite of his addictions and foolhardiness. “Don’t look for sense or fairness in who life blesses, my little love,” her mother used to say. “You’d have more like finding a puff squirrel that can make tea.”
Now the five Ravenstar children needed to count on themselves. Thomas Courage, 19, scavenged for trash and bits to sell down at the recycling yards. Or he did when he wasn’t sitting in the trash with needles in his arms. Clarence Mighty, 14, worked in the apple fields. On a good day he could bring the bruised apples home. Apples were the last fruits to grow, the News declared. And one day they’d be gone as well. But a bright red apple was worth it’s weight in gold, and a job in the orchard hard to get. The job made Clarence the lord of the house, not that he was much for lording over others. Mostly, he demanded someone else make his bed, a flimsy cot under the window. It was the one the chore he couldn’t abide.
Ida’s younger sister, Nellie Peacemaker, 12, managed to get a job even though the law said she was supposed to be in school. Everyone laughed at that. The government might as well have ordered them to fairyland for the likelihood of it. Nellie worked delivering messages. She was quick and exceptionally small, the gift of being premature and malnourished their mother said. “Be grateful.” Nellie could scramble under barbed wire and through gaps in fences. Security cameras recorded her image as a shadow and she barely made a sound on the gravel when she ran. She was also very good at keeping secrets, and everyone in the neighborhood trusted her. She never delivered a message to the wrong person and she never spoke out of turn.
The youngest of the five Ravenstar children, Frances Zeal, 8, didn’t have work. She was good at finding flowers in hidden places, cracks in sidewalks under shadows, in alleys behind garbage cans, and the rich ladies who managed to survive in the graceful, dilapidated houses would always buy these tiny blooms. The money from a real flower could feed the children for a week, but such gems were hard to find. Frances could always find them, but she could not make them grow.
Ida, 16 and a fountain of tears, found work at the Mortar and Crow Funeral Home, a sprawling metroplex of offices, viewing rooms, temples, prayer rooms, crematoriums, and financial services, boasted a full range of mourners for hire. A family could hire grandmothers in black, some who wailed and pulled their hair and some who prayed quietly at the grave. Whole families could be chosen to tell pre-written stories of the deceased, burnishing tales of generosity and bravery. There were young women who would throw themselves on the ground, dressed in flowing black dresses, proclaiming their undying love. Ida did none of that. She specialized in following the funeral procession, her long hair streaming, silk flowers woven in, and tears steadily streaming down her lovely young face. Aside from her ability to cry from sunrise to sunrise without effort, she could recite any prayer or poem for the dead.
Ida Wayward Ravenstar was a vision of heaven, speaking like an angel, and many a funeral goer fell in love with the sight of her.
“Mother would die if she knew what you were doing,” her brother Thomas said one day as they sat together on their sagging, ratty sofa.
“She’s dead already,” Ida replied. She ran a brush through her hair. “And she’d want us to eat. Francis might be able to go back to school if I keep working.”
“You work for murderers,” he said.
Ida stood to check her reflection in the tarnished mirror on the opposite wall. “They just bury the dead. Someone needs to.”
“They do everything they can to keep us dying,” he continued. “They stopped the building of the new hospital. They bought the drug companies and stopped development of new drugs. Death is where the money is and they make sure of it.”
“Rumor is all that is.” She wiped away the tears she couldn’t stop and placed her brush on the shelf. “You’re one to talk with those needles you keep jabbing yourself with.”
He looked down at his lap.
“You don’t want to give Mortar & Crow money? Then stop bringing about your own funeral.”
Thomas tugged at thread twisting out from the seam of his jeans. “Don’t give me a funeral, Sis. Leave me in a ditch like the rest of the poors.”
“We’ll do such thing! You’ll have a proper funeral and I’ll walk behind your coffin and say the best prayers. Of course I will.”
“We all know we can’t afford that.”
“It’s what we’ll do! And I’m done talking about it.” She flounced out of the room to the kitchen, where she’d scrounge something to eat. Clarence had brought home a loaf of stale bread and a few slices of cheese, and she hadn’t had her ration yet that day.
Thomas listened to his sister in the kitchen where she’d sit alone at the table crying those endless tears over bread. “You’ll find no body to bury, Sis,” he whispered. “That’s one promise I can keep.”