HEATHER L. DAVIS
Except from All the Sacred Places, a Young Adult Novel:
In 2070, Filipino-American Dak, a climate refugee, and obsessive-compulsive Galaxy, an eco-commune member, must overcome their mutual mistrust to solve a disturbing mystery that will impact the life of every climate refugee in America. In this excerpt, Galaxy describes what happens when wealthy kids from the city visit Arcadia, the "Sacred Place" commune where she lives.
From All the Sacred Places
I’m on garden duty, picking cucumbers and peppers, when Anne Marie comes by leading a tour for students from the city, rich Urbans, the children of senators, CEOs, and scientists. They’re the descendants of leaders who wouldn’t or couldn’t stop the destruction of the climate. Anne Marie’s wearing yellow hemp overalls she made herself and a white t-shirt underneath—her standard outfit. Her black hair is tied in a loose bun on top of her head. There’s something commanding about her, even though she’s petite. The students follow her warily, not used to the world outside the city, beyond their gated homes. She’s explaining how we all share chores, grow our own food, generate our own power, and own the property and buildings together. How we’ve been here for generations, dependent on no one, keeping the mountain pure.
“But isn’t that like Communism?” one guy asks.
“Nope,” Anne Marie says. “We’re not a political system, but if we were, we’d be more like a democracy. We vote on changes that affect everyone.”
“Can anyone live here?” asks a thin girl with huge brown eyes.
“No, I’m afraid not. We have to be careful with our resources. We do accept a few families each year, but the application process is not easy. Applicants must prove their dedication to restoring the land and living as simply as possible. As you know, we’re an official Sacred Place, an example of what America can be again, if we’re willing to sacrifice.”
A boy with blue hair and pierced eyebrows scowls as he looks around. “Go back to this? Are you kidding?”
The thin girl frowns and bumps his arm. “Don’t say that. It’s beautiful here.”
Anne Marie lets them argue then turns toward me. “Galaxy, hey, can you come over for a minute?”
I was afraid she’d make me talk. I take off my gloves then step over two rows of peppers, trying not to tic.
“This is Galaxy,” Anne Marie says. “She’s lived here all her life.”
I wave goofily, resisting the urge to grimace. A few of them wave back, but most look down their noses at me like I’m a barbarian.
“So what do you do for fun?” Anne Marie asks me.
I’m going to yell at her later for this. “Uh, I draw a lot, play guitar. I cook. I hike. I ride my bike. We have dances, put on plays.”
I look at her to see if that’s enough. Explaining how we live to visitors in nothing new.
“Don’t you have devices? Implants?” asks a boy with bronze skin.
“Do you go shopping?” asks a tall girl wearing what looks like real gold all around her ears.
“Do you miss having things?” she replies.
I pause even though I know the answer she expects. Not because I crave the material things I don’t have, but because the truth is I can’t know if I’m missing anything until I live outside of Arcadia. She waits.
“No. We have everything we need here.”
“So no one in Arcadia does Immersions?” she asks.
“Of course they don’t,” the blue-haired boy says. “They’re too holy for that. Using tech would mean they’re going to Hell.”
Anne Marie narrows her eyes. I think she feels sorry for him, that he’s so removed from the truth. “No, actually, we’re not holy at all. We’re just like you. What’s holy is everything around us. You could say we’re immersed every day. Isn’t that what we’re all working for?”
He looks at her with a side eye but doesn’t say anything else.
When my shoulders jerk, I catch curious looks on a few faces. Anne Marie winks at me before leading the class to another area. She’s so comfortable with people, so sure of herself. As soon as they’re out of ear shot, I grunt and tap the ground, maybe to cleanse it.
It doesn’t seem possible that someone as vibrant as Anne Marie could be dead, especially by her own hand.
Heather L. Davis is a fan of 5 a.m. writing sessions, strong coffee, and neurodiverse brains. Her books of poems The Lost Tribe of Us won the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Gargoyle, Northern Virginia Review, and Fledgling Rag. She also writes fiction and nonfiction and works full-time in international public health communications. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, the poet Jose Padua, and their daughter and son.