When I got asked to write a dystopian novel last year, I thought… oh, what if the old west came back?
What if there were earthquakes?
What if there was technology, but it was broken and hidden and mistrusted?
Meet Jesse and Ezrah.
“Boss, boss, there’s a wagon train up ahead.”
“What?” He blinked at Dooley, worried he was hearing things.
“There’s a wagon train, with a wagon headed our way,” Dooley repeated.
“No shit?” Maybe they could trade a cow for some sugar and coffee, some bacon.
Dooley nodded, and he headed up to the rise to see what he could see. Sure enough there was a trail of them, picking their way through the dust and dirt and broken pieces of old road. One wagon had broken off from the pack and was bumping right toward them, ripped up cover like a bunch of ragged flags.
There was a man climbing out the side of the wagon, scrambling to the top of the rise. “Ez! Ez, it’s me!”
Ezrah blinked, sure his eyes were deceiving him. There was no way that dreadlocked, raggedy sprite was Jesse. Right?
“Yep. You wrote, I came!”
There were tattoos on all the skin Ezrah could see, and blue eyes blazing at him as Jesse climbed toward him. The man looked as if he were…John the Baptist or something. Like a crazy desert hermit. Nothing like the skinny, pale, freckled kid who’d left all those years ago, headed out to the desert.
Dooley stared, eyes wide. “Boss. Boss, that’s one of them Grounders. They ain’t good.”
He snapped at Dooley. “I’ve known him since we were in diapers. I need his help. You just hush.” Ezrah stepped down out of the saddle, waiting for Jesse to reach him.
“Look at you! All grown up.” Jesse came to him, wrapped him in a hard hug. The soft, murmured, “Sucks about Em. Sorry.” damn near did him in, making his knees wobble.
“Thanks.” He hugged Jess right back, the skinny little bastard feeling and smelling familiar, even if he looked completely different, like a damned tribesman, all wearing his hair in braids and dressed in skins and patchwork broadcloth. It felt good to touch someone. God, he missed Emmett.
“So, I brought things, but not a horse, because you know, I don’t have one.”
“We have plenty. Or you can ride in the wagon with Cookie.” Ezrah chuckled. “I know you don’t love to ride, but it’s better than eating dust all day with the chuck wagon.”
“Or smelling beans for hours. I know how not fun that is.”
“Exactly. Looks as though you remember something from your cattle days.” He clapped Jess on the back, the beads on the ends of the man’s braids clacking together. “It’s good to see you, man.”
“Wish it could be for something better. How can I help?”
“Well, for right now, we need to keep the herd moving.” He glanced back at the two drovers who looked on with less-than friendly interest. “Dooley, go see if you can work a trade for some provisions, huh?”
“You got it, boss.” The man gave Jesse a long look before turning away.
“I have the urge to wiggle my fingers and go ‘boogala boogala’.”
“You’d probably scare him to death.” Dooley was fairly new to anything outside the ranch.
“It’s too bad you need the help.”
“Well, I appreciate you coming. I’ll talk on why after we settle tonight.”
“You know it.” Jesse’s eyes moved over everything, touched on every bit of brush and rock, one after another, as if the man were hungry to see. Didn’t make a lick of sense. This ground looked the same for weeks and wouldn’t change much for days on days, leastways until they gained some altitude.
Still, if Jess was up there in the high desert, living wild and lawless, maybe the prairie grasses looked fine.
He shook himself when blue eyes landed on him, Jesse’s bright red eyebrow arching. “Cool. Let’s get you a mount ready.”
“Sure. Sure, Ez. Whatever you need. I’m yours.”
“That’s a dangerous promise.”
Book available here.