This is a small fragment from the first novel I ever wrote, starting as a teenager and finishing somewhere around age twenty-five. I don't think the whole thing is ever publishable, but fragments here and there can be salvaged. It trends more towards fantasy than science fiction, and I was careful to stress in the opening note that it wasn't based on any one tribal culture at all, but was rather more like a fantasy novel set in indian country:
"The miles went by faster through Wyoming once I had a destination in mind, mountains rising and twisting before me as I drove the empty highway, passing two cars, listening to scratchy country music on the radio stations that faded in and out.
Finally I pulled over to sleep outside a little town called Crow's Lake, Montana, on the side of the road in which I hoped was a fairly out of the way place. I got my blankets from the back and rolled up the windows in the front, and lay down with my legs curled up on the front seat, warm. I faded away pretty fast.
Three loud knocks on the window woke me up. I shot up and nearly missed cracking my head on the steering wheel. I wiped my eyes and looking out the window. I saw smiling eyes staring at me, the rest of the face covered in a red blanket and topped with a baseball cap. It was morning, but the sun wasn’t out and there was frost on the windows. The huddled collection of blankets tapped the windows again, signaling for me to roll the window down. I did, and felt crisp sharp air on my arms and face.
“Hi there,” said the woman. “You know, when I drove up from my driveway this morning and saw your truck here, I thought it had stalled or something. I didn’t know there was somebody sleeping here!” She laughed, and the round ball of blankets she clutched about her shook like a big red bell. “Then I thought, wagh, some fool idiot used my driveway for a camp spot and froze to death! But it’s good to see you moving. I’m Ezra.”
She pulled out tinfoil wrapped object and held it out to me.
“My name’s Sarah.” I hesitated, then took the package from the woman, and spoke. “Thanks. Do you know where I can get some coffee? I’m not from around here and there doesn’t seem to be any restaurants in town.”
The woman laughed, her deep wrinkle lines dancing at my words. “You want a restaurant in Crow's Lake? No, you’re not from around here all right. But I knew that already. I saw your truck's plates. Well Sarah, you’re a long way from the Paiute rez. Or are you from the Shoshone band?”
“Oh, you mean Nevada?" I asked. "I just lived there. I’m not from any reservation. I was born in New York.” Ezra frowned a bit, and then turned towards where her yellow Dodge sat idling in the morning mist.
“Well anyway, let me pull my truck out of here then you can follow me into Runion for that coffee, if you still want it. Do you know where your parents came from?”
“Yes,” I answered, “from New York.”
She laughed at this, and shouted back as she climbed in the truck, “Well then, Sarah Cote, you are definitely a long way from home!” Before I could reply, she was pulling forward and honking her horn for me to move out of the way. I set the tinfoil package on the dash, where the heater would keep it slightly warmer than my lap, though not as hot as when Ezra gave it to me.
The drive into Runion was about half an hour, because Ezra drove much slower than me. It wasn’t so bad, and I got to look at the scenery through the thinning fog as the sun threatened to rise over the juniper pines that stood among the crouched sage. The mountains curled around us, then slipped away into long folding hills that swept up in grassy waves before dropping from sight again only to be replaced by other hills. A trick I learned and perfected somewhere back in Utah allowed me to put on a clean tee-shirt from the pile I had in the passenger seat, and then a warm sweater, all while driving.
Then Runion curved outwards from behind a hill, a larger town than Crow's Lake with railroad tracks cutting through the main street at least twice. Trucks and a few cars slipped along the streets, the sun rising and glinting off the rusty hoods of the cars, their exhaust pipes spitting white clouds from underneath them. In Runion, the streets shined wet in the morning glow from a night time rain, and as we drove down the hill into the town, the rising sun set the streets aflame in rivulets of gold and shattered diamonds. The beauty was deceptive, because when we rolled down the main thoroughfare, the golden streets became very pot-holed and cracked. By the time I pulled into a parking space next to Ezra’s truck, I knew that I was going to have to replace the shocks soon.
While I sat squirming into clean blue jeans in the front seat, Ezra came to my truck and rapped on the window. I rolled it down and she grinned. “Used to do that a lot myself when I was your age. Had to stop after I had my son, though.” She pounded here breastbone beneath her plaid green shirt, “These bones just had it with truck changing. Gimme that bannock.” I handed her the tinfoil package and climbed out of the truck, slipping my shoes on. She waited for me before we crossed the street to the diner-Chasilee’s Place.
We stepped inside to the smell of eggs, bacon, and coffee. I stood behind Ezra as a number of people tossed loud greeting to her in a room full of laughing conversation. She took my hand and we wove our way through the very crowded room over to a large table in the corner near the back. As we went, Ezra stopped several times to lean down and hug people sitting at tables, or to laugh with a lady who whispered loudly at her. I hoped the smile on my face didn’t show how nervous I was, as I glanced at the people through the room. As I looked, I felt shock twist through my stomach and a shiver of surprise on my arms-the people here were all Indians. There wasn’t a single white person in the room.
The table that Ezra led me to had only one seat left, but then some older men in blue jeans and baseball caps shuffled about, laughing all the while, and then there was a second place next to Ezra’s for me. As we sat down I stared out into the room into the faces of these people, saw the same dark skin, the same high cheekbones, the same reflection I’d only seen in my mirror since before I could remember when. I noticed that many people in the room were staring back at me, and as Ezra sat down I noticed that almost everyone in the room was glancing at me through their conversations.
The four women at our table stared openly at me, and suddenly, I got the feeling that I really shouldn’t be there. A thin wiry woman sat across from me, her tanned skin rising up from her faded blue plaid shirt in taut angles, her dark almond eyes staring at me almost as though I’d slapped her. Her graying hair was long and curved tightly around her face, the braids tumbling off her shoulders, and her cheeks were pinned by wrinkles that pressed against her face. Her hands were carved by these wrinkles, as though her fingers were made of cracking sandstone. I was shocked by the fact that she looked so much like my mother.
"Sarah, this is Gina, my good friend." Ezra said. I smiled at the staring woman automatically. She didn't smile back.
Gina. That name doesn’t sound like it’s really her name, I thought. It seemed wrong.
The woman sitting beside me recovered quickly and beamed as she introduced herself. Mayna Aleit was a round woman who seemed to always be staring just behind you to your right through her thick bifocals perched on her thin nose. But she embraced smiles, and her perm-curled hair framed her tired round face in a soft dark halo. Her sister, Abra, was sitting on the other side of Ezra. Abra was a woman whose smirking lips and ink black eyes were hidden underneath thick bangs of her waist length ebony hair. She wore it in two braids, and they hung loosely over her chair.
She had a beautiful tanned face and wore a sharp sky blue sweater. She was winding some yarn across through knitting needles in her long fingers, and as she listened to Ezra introduce the rest of the ladies to me, her hands began spinning and pulling the red yarn on one needle, twisting it unconsciously along the next, till she filled up the needle, then started another row. Her hands looked like spiders.
Mrs. Alice was papery looking woman, thin and a very firm handshaker. Her eyes, deep brown, seemed watery behind her glasses, watery and larger than the rest of her face. She asked me where I was headed, and I replied just, “Road trip.” At that, Mrs. Alice’s smile curled around her deep leathery wrinkles and she smiled, her hands like two birds around her cup, fluttering and tinking against the side as she listened. She never told me her last name, sweet Mrs. Alice. She laughed many times that morning.
Before I knew it, there was a cracked-handled cup of steaming coffee in front of me, beckoning from the table with promises of waking me up. As I stirred the cream into the cup, the spoon clicking against the sides as it swirled, I looked up and saw Gina staring at me. I didn’t say anything, but looked back at her. She looked away quickly, her hard look dissolving into laughter as she joined Ezra and Abra’s joke.
Mrs. Alice peered at me over her coffee cup, a grin curled upon her lips as her leathery hands slid back and forth. “So, Sarah,” she said suddenly, in a loud voice that silenced the other conversations at the table, “what brings you to Runion?” She leaned forward, the better to wait for my answer.
“Coffee, and maybe eggs. I’m just passing through really. Seeing the States, I guess.” Mrs. Alice settled back into her chair, and Ezra grinned as she called a waitress over. I ordered scrambled eggs, and was going to order toast, but Ezra stopped me.
“I brought plenty of bannock, enough for everybody,” she said, unwrapping the still warm package of tinfoil she had given me earlier. It was some sort of cake bread, steaming with the delicious smell of butter and something else that I couldn’t guess. Abra chuckled as Ezra cut her a piece of the bread, then nearly dropped the hot slice with her fingers as her chuckles changed to curses.
“Aya! It’s hot!,” she said, dropping it on her coffee plate.
“Mmmhmm,” said Ezra as she cut Mrs. Alice a piece, “Sarah’s truck has a good working heater.” Mrs. Alice accepted her slice with both hands, and a very happy smile as she closed her eyes and held the bread up to her nose to inhale deeply, like a flower. Ezra cut a piece and handed to me, and I gingerly passed it to Myna. She grinned and set the bread down on her napkin, reaching for the salt shaker.
“Salt?! Eeeugh!” exclaimed Mrs. Alice, watching Myna spread the salt over the bannock with her knife. “Sarah, how do you like your bannock?” Before I could answer, she continued, “I think putting salt on them tastes like eating rocks.” Myna, who was eating a piece with her fingers, stuck her tongue out at the old lady. Mrs. Alice gave her a look of disgust, then turned to the bannock on her plate. She grabbed the honey jar, the kind with the plastic squeeze top, and squirted a thin lace of light golden honey on her bannock, spilling it over the edges."