Citizen Spade (working title of a story to be posted in non-sequential excerpts)

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CITIZEN SPADE: journey to Chicago

Spade hefted his backpack. Fully loaded with all his belongs he set out once again through the wilderness. It was another 130 miles or so to Chicago. He could make it there in a week, so long as he continued to avoid the wolf packs.

Spade was comfortable in the woods. He knew the wilderness; grew up in them in his little community, hidden amongst the trees in the valleys. He had worked and tended the fields that stretched to the tree line as far as they dare go. These were truly wild places beyond those fields. As a child he ran through them with abandon, never understanding the real danger. Spade loved the woods. He knew them. But he didn’t know these woods. They looked the same but he knew he was in a strange place. Farther from home than he had ever dreamed he would be he was truly alone and far from shelter. The threat of becoming prey was very real, in many ways. Spade just kept walking. He loved the woods. Soon, in a week’s time, he’d find the city.

Spade listened to his footsteps, the rustle of leaves beneath his feet, the cracking of twigs with each footfall. They were familiar sounds. In his head he said his name. Spade. He spoke his name out load, “Spade.”

He stopped suddenly, startled. His voice was loud in the forest. He spoke his name again, “Spade.”

His name was not a familiar sound.

He would have to get used to his new name, saying it, hearing it. He had to learn to own it because it was the name he’d given himself. He was Spade, now. He had thrown away his old name, the one his parents had given him. And with it he threw away the life he knew, the life that he felt was crushing him. He hated his real name. He hated it, hated where it came from, hated what it meant and stood for. His real name, Michael, was gone, tossed aside. He was Spade, now.

“Spade,” he spoke once more.

Spade began walking, again. He mentally calculated his food stuffs, his mileage, and his energy. He was tired. He’d been hiking for eight days. Food wasn’t so much a problem. He could hunt and forage if he had to but he had enough dried meat and airtight bags of pickled vegetables he stole from his mother’s pantry.

Mom. “She’s going to be crushed,” he said to no one. “Dad probably won’t even notice I’m gone. He’s so wrapped up in the congregation. Who does he think he’s saving?” Only the song of birds answered.

Hours later Spade finally came to the river marked on his map. Everything about that map was wrong except for the rivers and mountains. All the little dots, all the towns, all the lines and roads were gone. He’d pass through one the day before. All that was left were boards and a few bricks standing in sharp contrast to the forest around them. One chimney still stood. In some places he could feel the broken asphalt buried under the leaves beneath his feet. Some places had spongy wet ground. Others were hard and unyielding. Those were the roads. Buried under nature, no one would really know they had ever been there. But his old map told him where these places once stood and where the roads once traveled. They were gone, now. Like his old name.

The river was still there. He stopped to rest. As night fell, Spade lit a small fire in the folding brazier. He smiled to himself, always proud of his small inventions and contraptions, no matter how small.

As he stared into the small flickering flames, Spade thought about the stories he had heard growing up. Where he was walking now, he was told, was once a vast and open plain; miles upon miles of soft rolling hills covered by farms, towns, and great fields of corn and grain and soy. It was hard for him to imagine. The largest plots he’d ever seen back home were never more than a few well tilled acres; but miles of fields of grain?

Spade looked thoughtfully at the black woods around him. Eventually he slept.

Spade woke the next morning, rekindled the fire, and ate breakfast silently and alone. No birds sang. There was no rustle of wind in the trees. No skittering of small creatures in the brush. The world around Spade was silent and he was at peace. In the night he had hardened his resolve to continue forward. What small doubt he had about turning back was gone. He would go to Chicago and become a Citizen, whatever it took. He could no longer endure life back home in the Community as a member of the Congregation. They were wrong, he’d thought. Shutting themselves away from the rest of the world, from the Citizens, even from other Congregations, it was all wrong. They were wrong about everything; especially his father; especially about God.

Spade finished his breakfast, extinguished his fire, gathered his things and began walking north. In the small clearing near the riverbank, the birds began to sing again. No trace of Spade remained. No one would ever know that he had stopped there for the night.

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