by Shannon Iwanski (as Shannon Bozarth) (Softcover)
Page Count: 244
In the irradiated ruins of the United States, the populace is subjected to tests for “the disease.” Anyone found to be infected are sent to camps for wholesale slaughter. When Carla’s son is diagnosed, they will do anything to survive. That’s when Alex arrives, just in time to offer the family a chance to flee their oppressive regime via the train.
Catalog Code: SHIW0001
Ride the Train on Amazon
(5 Star) This is not an easy book, if you are a marginalized person you will see yourself in the characters time and again. It will hurt, and it will do so much more. It will open you up, it will give you hope, and it will change you. I rode the train, and you should too.
(5 Star) The goal of speculative fiction is to magnify an issue the author sees in the modern world, and extrapolate it, to show the eventual extreme that such a path might take. Ride the Train seeks the conclusion to such issues as LGBT issues, the presence of religion in politics, and the rights of individuals to live freely. It does so magnificently. A story told in three parts, with a different narrator for each, it exposes cruelties that can be found even in today’s world, horrible atrocities that should give anyone pause. Another author may have put such events into their story for mere shock value, scenes to show that the villains were depraved in their evil. But in Ride the Train, they are tinged with a realness, a melancholy reminiscent of real tragedy that have effects on the characters and the world. It is not a happy look at what our world may be, but it is a compelling one. One that I will likely find myself revisiting again.
Read Excerpt Below
Carla stared at the non-descript white card she held in her hand and read the words silently again, knowing that simple act was enough to condemn her to death.
Do you want to ride the train?
She had no idea who had placed the card under her door. It was just waiting when she arrived home from the doctor’s office with Jacob trailing behind her, dropping crayons on the floor. He had been the first to notice it, picking it up and asking her, “Mom, what’s this?”
Do you want to ride the train?
“It’s nothing, honey,” she casually lied. She hoped he couldn’t tell that her heart thudded in her chest or that her breath had caught in her throat. He simply shrugged and went past her into their shared bedroom.
“Jacob, sweetie, I really need you to finish your homework. Remember, we submit it tomorrow.”
He stopped in the doorway, turning back to her with that look on his face—the precursor to a storm of eight-year-old disdain. “Mom, I hate that homework. It’s stupid. I don’t like doing it.”
“I know, Jacob,” she soothed him, “but you still have to do it.”
Because if you don’t, bad things will happen to us. The words danced on the tip of her tongue, daring her to unleash them. She sighed. Kneeling in front of him, she looked him in the eye so he would know how important this was.
“You have to do it because it has to be done,” she said. “That’s just the way things are. Sometimes we just do what we’re told. I know you don’t understand, but one day you will. I promise.”
“But, mom, they ask me questions about God and stuff. God isn’t real. He doesn’t exist.”
Carla grabbed hold of him without thinking. “Is that what you told Dr. Winston? Jacob, you can’t say things like that!”
“Ow, you’re hurting me,” he said, attempting to break her hold on him.
Her hands drew back quickly, and she stared in shock at the red marks where her fingertips had pressed into his flesh. “I’m sorry, sweetie. You just can’t say things like that.”
“But it’s true,” he insisted, crossing his arms over his chest as he rubbed them vigorously. “If God is real then why doesn’t he ever answer my prayers? Why won’t he bring back Dad and my friends that have gone away?”
“He is real because we believe he is real. We have faith in him and his love for us. God loves you, sweetie, he just doesn’t always give you what you want.”
“Then what good is he? You’re just saying what the teachers say. Nobody really answers my questions. They just get mad at me and tell me to study harder.” He walked into their room and sat at the small desk provided for his school work. “I’ll do it, but only because I have to.”
“That’s all I ask.” Standing up, she ran her fingers through her long brown hair and leaned against the door jamb, watching him as he sat and began writing on the paper.
He had never been so vocal in his hatred of the homework or in his lack of belief in God. From the warning Dr. Winston had given her, he knew, and so would The Party soon enough. Everyone knew nobody could fool the test or hide the results.
The leather sofa gave a squelch as she fell onto it, sinking slowly back like she had with the arms of her husband before he had been killed in the war. The card stared at her, repeating its silent question over and over, burning it into her brain.
Do you want to ride the train?
She shrieked involuntarily as the television came to life, displaying the insignia of The Party, as it always did right before an address to the people. It had never startled her as much as it did now—now that she held a death sentence in her hand.
“Brothers and Sisters,” Leader’s voice called out a moment before the red, white, and black insignia cut to a picture of his face with its tiny black mustache and his slightly disheveled hair that he constantly moved out of his eyes. “Today we take another step in our war against all that is unclean and unholy. Our forces have crossed the border into lands controlled by the Heth Alliance and have begun the systematic cleansing of those who would profane the name of God.
“While we are still far from their capital, we are more determined than ever to continue to push forward until we strike at the very heart of them.
“These vile rodents have twisted the Holy Word and make a mockery of it. However, we have shown them the power and the might of God. We have shown them His messengers will deliver vengeance swiftly and with good measure.”
Leader paused as deafening shouts and cheers from a crowd overpowered his amplified voice. A camera panned across the mob gathered below where Leader gave his addresses. Carla felt overwhelmed by the size of it.
Silence returned slowly, punctuated sporadically by cheers and shouted threats of retribution against the Heth. Leader continued, “While this battle rages, we cannot become complacent within the borders of our lands, for when we rest and believe the enemy is out there, we find he has taken root in here, within us.” Boos and jeers erupted, not as loudly as the previous cheering, but still enough that Leader had to wait for it to subside.
“Special Services officers continue their rounds, and we beseech you, come forward with any information you might have about heretics, diseased, or those who collaborate with them. Do not let these wretched fools destroy that which we have all worked and sacrificed for. It is our land, and we must all do what we can in its defense.”
As cheers erupted once more, Leader gave a brief wave, stepped down from the podium, and disappeared behind a large curtain bearing The Party’s insignia.
The TV cut off as suddenly as it had sprung to life, but Carla could still hear the cheers echoing in her mind. She looked at the card again, repeating the question.
Do you want to ride the train?
I don’t know, she thought.
Placing the card on the short table in front of the couch, she walked into the tiny kitchen. The small, box-like refrigerator stared back at her as her eyes reflected its emptiness. Two more days to rations.
A knock on the door startled her, eliciting a shriek. Oh, God, no, she thought. The refrigerator door hung open, forgotten. She walked slowly toward the front door, making as little noise as possible, listening.
“Carla, it’s Mrs. Marshall. Are you home?”
She opened the door in the midst of another knock and sigh of relief. “Hi. Sorry about that,” she said, forcing a smile.
“That’s okay, dear, I wasn’t sure I would see you again,” the old woman said. She walked in uninvited—like always, Carla thought—and set a bag on the table beside the refrigerator. “Goodness, dear, you shouldn’t leave that open. You’ll have The Party down on us for wasting resources.” She closed the door and reached into the bag, pulling out a few items.
“Mrs. Marshall, I thought we talked about this,” Carla objected.
“Oh, we did, dear, but you know me. I only listen to two things in this world—God and my conscience. So don’t take offense when I ignore your protests about sharing my food with you and that darling boy of yours.” Mrs. Marshall folded up the cloth bag, making it disappear into a pocket of her two-tone gray dress. “I have more than enough, Carla. Besides, I saw the inside of your refrigerator, and I can assume that pantry looks the same way. You have to eat.”
“And so do you,” Carla accused with a hint of sadness and self-loathing in her voice.
The older woman laughed. “Have you seen me, dear? I get by. I’m not exactly skin and bones over here. If I’m not careful I’ll have someone from The Party accusing me of hording food or gluttony. You wouldn’t want that, would you, dear?”
Grasping the woman’s hands, Carla laughed and hugged her. “You don’t play fair.”
“Not in sixty-seven years, thank God.” Mrs. Marshall kissed her on the cheek on her way out. “Is there anything else you need, Carla? Anything I might help you with?”
“I wish you could, but there are some problems even you can’t solve, sadly.”
The woman smiled, opened the door, and stepped into the mildewed hallway. “Never give people less credit than they deserve, and never think you know everything about someone. That will serve you well. Always. Have a good night, Carla. God keep you safe.”
“You, too, Mrs. Marshall. Thank you so much. Again.”
The woman waved away the thanks and closed the door. Carla stared at the food, grateful for it and the fact Jacob’s stomach wouldn’t be empty again. She placed the small amount of cheese and a few vegetables into the refrigerator and pulled a pan off its hook on the wall. The last of the water splashed into the pan, reminding her she should fill it during the next visit from the truck in the morning.
When the rice and limp carrots finished cooking, she spooned them onto her only two plates, placing them on the two-person table opposite the refrigerator. “Jacob, come eat,” she called out.
He wrapped his arms around her as she poured a small amount of milk into glasses. “I’m sorry for earlier, Mom. I did the homework. Stop worrying, okay?”
Not ever, she thought sadly. “Thank you,” she said aloud, handing him the glass and sitting across from him. “Would you like to say grace?” The look on his face answered her question.
She prayed silently, thanking God for Mrs. Marshall and the food. Her thoughts also strayed to the card sitting a few feet away, and she asked God for guidance.
Jacob’s fork scraped across the chipped porcelain plate.