The following is the bulk of chapter two from the novella I published through Antelope Hill. The story follows a journalist named Rob Coen who travels from one of the coastal urban centers to interview the governor of the state of Wyoming, James Alexander. Alexander, however, is not like other governors. He has made it his mission to mobilize the state to a new purpose under his Wyoming Plan, which endeavors to transform the state into a refuge for the people who wish to escape the creeping threats of modern American culture against people of faith and traditional morality. At this point of the story, Rob has arrived in Wyoming and agreed to stay at Camp Hope, one of the new facilities dedicated to public works and service under the new mobilization effort. He is to meet someone in the lodge where is staying to receive a tour of the camp grounds.
Let Them Look West
Rob traced the path back around the corner and out the door into the entry room where he noticed now what he could not have seen before: a set of metal letters above the doors they had entered a few minutes earlier. They were constructed of black cast-iron, reading: “Nunc Semper Liberi Sumus.” He could recognize it as Latin but had no inkling of what it said. He stood gazing at them with an unfocused stare, feeling a bit bewildered. A slight motion below drew his attention. A young woman was standing beneath the balcony and peering up at him with a curious expression. She had been so quiet and still that he had entirely missed her until that moment.
Once it was clear that he had seen her, she asked, “Rob Coen I take it?” He nodded, and she motioned for him to come down while resuming her introduction, “I’m Justine. I’m going to show you around the place.”
To say that Justine was not the sort of person Rob had expected to give him a tour of the camp would not be accurate, since he had possessed no definite expectations. If, however, expectations had existed, then he was quite sure she would not have been part of them.
The first reason he was certain of this was because she was young and good looking, two qualities he had seen no evidence of existing in Alexander’s Wyoming thus far. Additionally, at least where he came from, this place was most often associated with backward, stiff, and patriarchal fundamentalism. It did not follow that youthful, attractive young people were not capable of existing in such a place, but they were certainly not the first types that came to mind.
Justine was conventionally attractive, with pale skin, large, dark eyes, and straight brown hair which reached a few inches below her shoulders. She had a smooth, broad and somewhat pronounced forehead. It was almost moon-like and gave her face proportions which narrowed sharply from the top down to her small chin. This gave her a more childish appearance than was warranted by her age, which he would put somewhere between nineteen and twenty-one.
“Yes, Rob Coen, thank you,” he replied while beginning to descend the stairs. As he drew nearer, he could make out that she wore simple, practical work clothes: denim pants that were slightly more form fitting than one would expect, scuffed brown work boots, and a light-brown canvas work jacket over a checkered red flannel shirt. There was something oddly familiar about her features that he could not quite place, and, as he drew near enough to reach out and shake her small and very warm hand, the feeling of recognition did not depart, so that he was nearly certain he had seen her before.
As she turned to lead him toward the door, Rob pulled his notepad from the inner pocket of his jacket so that she could see it. “You don’t mind if I write things down as we talk, do you? That this is all on the record?”
Justine shrugged carelessly, as though the notepad were a stick or a rock. “Sounds good to me. Which room did they give you?” She turned and led him toward the door.
“Uh. Not sure the number. Right hallway and second door on the right.”
“That side is better,” She commented. “Banks’ office is in that hallway. If you need anything, he’s usually in there watching old DVDs from the first campaign.”
They had passed through the door and onto the wraparound porch at this point. Rob was struck by one specific detail of her comment, “Old DVDs from the campaign?”
Justine glanced back over her shoulder while stepping down onto the walk leading away from the lodge. “Recordings from the campaign events, rallies, church meetings, and all that sort of thing. Banks filmed almost everything on the campaign when Governor Alexander was running for his first term, and now he goes back and watches them all the time. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you wanted to take a look at it. It’s just a bunch of old stump speeches and that kind of thing.”
Assuming that her description was accurate, he was intensely interested. An undiscovered cache of videos from the primordial and volatile early days of Governor Alexander’s political career could be worth any discomfort he had to endure on this misadventure. Better yet, it could provide evidence to Margaret that deviating from the plan to stay in Jackson had paid off. An odd thought struck him. Of course, this young woman must know that the old recordings would interest him journalistically, so why mention them? Was she trying to help him? A worming sensation of suspicion invaded his brief moment of enthusiasm. He could not account for it, aside from attributing it to his journalistic tendency toward paranoia. He would have to ignore such feelings if he wanted to squeeze every opportunity from this venture. If Rob was going to be trapped at this camp and at the mercy of the governor’s people, then he would make the most of it, play along, and be a good sport. People loved that experiential narrative long-form journalistic style of the writer living alongside the subject. He began to convince himself that not going to his own hotel had been a calculated move, that he may have suspected deep down the journalistic opportunities he could discover by staying here. After all, if he believed it, then his editors might also.
Justine was leading him along a gravel path which crossed over the asphalt drive he and Banks had traveled on the way up. He sped up so that he walked side by side with her and got back to work, “So you work here at Camp Hope? Do you work directly for the governor?”
“I work here when I’m not in school, since my parents live in Jackson.”
“What are you studying?”
“I’m probably going to go into state work. I started early. I was in the youth volunteer corps in high school, the Hospitaller division.”
Something shifted in the dark inner region of Rob’s mind, like the languid and unconscious flopping of a sleeping man’s arm as he rolls over in slumber. He experienced symptoms of realization without the full manifestation. “Hospitaller? The name is familiar, but you’ll have to jog my memory.” Rob always erred on the side of ignorance. The desire to avoid looking uninformed was the enemy of complete interrogation.
“For the most part addiction treatment and rehabilitation,” she said simply.
Then Rob remembered. The governor had run partly on a strong anti-drug platform. He had described the existence of addiction, particularly opioid, as a scourge upon the people of the nation. Unlike some, who framed the issue in warlike language, he had described it as a disease, and with any disease, sometimes extreme measures were required to heal the body. He went so far as to say that if someone was an addict living on the streets, then they would be scooped up and made clean and sober whether they wanted it or not.
Now that one had exploded across the headlines. National pundits opined that Alexander would pass sweeping and mandatory drug testing, that he would shred Fourth Amendment rights, that there would be roving squads of jackbooted stormtroopers rounding up anyone even under suspicion of being a drug user. Like any of the media firestorms, Alexander fed off it. He shouted from the stump that the commentariat in Washington wanted people drugged into a helpless stupor. He argued that they wanted people to have just enough freedom to choose an indolent life of numbed feelings, stunted sensations, and blind consumption.
After he won, Alexander announced a partnership with the state legislature to form the Hospitallers, and led a successful push to increase state mandatory minimums for possession and distribution for all opioid and amphetamine substances. The chorus decrying him a tyrant rose again. He had proven the pundits right.
There was, however, one difference in his plan from the prophecies of the intellectuals. Steep prison sentences could be avoided completely. A junkie in possession of a large amount of illegal drugs could go without spending a day behind bars on the condition that he submitted himself to the care of the Hospitallers. The program was described as part rehab and part boot camp. There had been some journalism on the topic, but not enough to give Rob an impression of the inner workings or effectiveness of the program.
This would likely be one of few opportunities to learn more, so he decided to pester Justine about it for a while. “I’ve only heard cursory information about the Hospitallers. I’d like to know more if you don’t mind explaining.”
She shrugged. “I was young and just a volunteer, so I didn’t do too much that was involved with the more sensitive operations of the corps. I mostly helped with supply inventories and grunt work. The largest focus when I was there was relocating the homeless. By that point a lot of the problems with drugs were under control.”
“Is it true that they took people by force?” Rob asked, noting that she gave him a quick sidelong glance when he asked the question. “I only heard things secondhand,” he qualified.
She slipped her hands into the pockets of her canvas work jacket and took a short breath before responding. “Taken by force.” She repeated and let the words hang momentarily. “That’s how somebody with the heart of a big city would say it. The primary goal was always relocating the homeless and assisting the police with drug rehabilitation for criminals. Virtually everyone picks the Hospitallers over prison.”
“Some choice.” Rob commented under his breath, but she heard him.
“If you really want to make the argument that living fix to fix as a junkie and begging or stealing your way to the next high is a way of living that is worth being able to choose, then you won’t find much agreement around here. Someone who is choosing misery needs help to learn better choosing. Making some argument that getting people out of that cycle, whether they want it or not at the time, is somehow stepping on their freedom doesn’t do a whole lot to make people better off. Ask any of them after they’re clean if they wish their freedom to choose misery had been preserved. You won’t get many people expressing regret.”
Rob wrote it all down word for word. If he had thought Banks was a true believer, then this girl was the high priestess of Governor Alexander and God’s kingdom the state of Wyoming. Of course they would set him up with a real zealot. Whether carefully orchestrated or not, the readers of The Times were going to eat this up. It was like touring North Korea with the great leader’s chief propaganda officer. Even as he thought it, Rob could not help feeling a twinge of guilt at his own cynicism. She was earnest, and he must be careful not to let his prejudices color his work too much.
They had reached a cluster of large buildings which were unlike the cabins and lodge in that they had aluminum siding and a clearly utilitarian appearance. Justine stopped by a door on the side of the nearest one and turned to face him. Her expression was serene and not marked with any evidence that he had bothered her with his comment or that her forceful reply had changed her mood from its prior placidity.
“This is the stable,” she explained. “Do you like horses?”
“I’m not familiar with them,” Rob responded, a little uncomfortable with where this was going. He was not overly fond of animals. He found their unpredictable behavior and habits infuriating. “I’m sure I’ll like them,” he added, so as not to sound like he dreaded the prospect of interacting with them.
She opened the door and they passed through a narrow walkway between two walls of wooden slats until they entered a large aisle running down the center of the building. The dirt floor was coated in powdery dust, and Rob could smell the rough tinge of straw. His nose began to itch. The hay fever would be running wild now.
His ears picked up the muffled, syncopated beat of the absent-minded stamping of the animals all around them, they were hidden from sight but not hearing. Justine arrived at one door and slid it open slowly with a whirring sound so that they stood face to face with a large brown horse, which, upon seeing them, pulled its nose back toward its chest in an odd mixture of what appeared to be fierce determination and a balking sort of nervousness. It then punctuated the movement by flicking its black tail.
“This is my horse,” Justine explained. “His name is Babieca.” She began running the palms of her pale hands down from the forehead to the nose of the animal repeatedly to soothe him.
“What are the horses used for?” Rob asked, standing awkwardly a few feet back, holding back a sneeze and willing the tickling sensation to leave his nose with every shred of his mental capacity.
She continued stroking the horse’s nose while replying, “It’s much easier to get around on many of the mountain trails here on horseback. Some of the foresters and rangers use them for transportation and as pack animals. The cattlemen use them all the time as well. I mostly just ride Babieca for fun, though. I guess it’s just one of the perks I get around here.” She rubbed her hands along the horse’s neck on either side and added in a babying tone, “compared to the others he is very spoiled.”
Something seemed odd about her comment regarding getting perks, as though she had some special status here that he should know. The mounting pressure in Rob’s sinuses added to the annoyance caused by the seemingly innocuous statement. He felt as though there was some big secret that was being kept from him.
Justine turned and smiled. “You can pet his nose. He’s very friendly.”
Rob raised his hand and felt the animal shift slightly as his skin made contact with the short, coarse hair along the bridge of the nose. He was overcome by a sudden wave of discomfort with the realization of where he was. He, a man in his early thirties, alone with a girl of maybe twenty years. As he gave Justine a surreptitious sidelong glance the discomfort became more pronounced as he was reminded of how attractive she was in that way which was hard to explain. The paleness of her smooth, wide forehead and the darkness of her hair made a stark contrast that seemed almost unreal in sharpness. He had noticed that when she was not making an effort to smile, her mouth rested in a severe expression. She seemed aged beyond her years: jaded yet idealistic at the same time. It was a bizarre combination of disparate forces: alluring, cold, naive, perceptive, confident, aloof, convicted. She stopped patting Babieca’s neck and left him alone in the stall with the horse. Rob rested his hand on the nose and stared with an unfocused gaze into the glassy and nearly black eye. The thick lid drooped at intervals as the creature dozed in the calm following the initial stimulus of their entry into the quiet stall.
“Why did they put me with her for the afternoon?” he asked in a whisper, as though the animal could understand or held some hidden knowledge in the area under the sunken spots beside its ears. Was it to make him uncomfortable, or to disarm him? How carefully had these circumstances been crafted to control what he would write about the governor and his kingdom?
Justine returned to the stall. “Put your hand out like this,” she instructed and held out a small hand with fingers spread so they were bent slightly back. He mimicked the motion with his own hand. “Closer to his mouth,” she said. He moved his hand closer to the horse’s nose. She then set a small, slightly withered carrot onto his palm. Babieca stirred, smelled the carrot with deliberate blasts of breath and moved his muzzle over to the object of interest. Large rubbery lips began closing on the carrot and pulling at it bit by bit. The hot, moist air of the animal’s breath poured warmly onto Rob’s skin as the lips worked and searched for purchase while sending jolts of terror down his spine at the prospect of the horse unintentionally biting him. With a sharp crunch and then a muffled, wet grinding noise the morsel was gone.
“Have you ever been this close to a horse before?” Justine asked.
“No,” he admitted honestly. “I grew up in the city.”
“Most people are scared or at least nervous. You could be a natural. I can show you how to ride one of the older mares if you want.”
Rob let out a short, dry laugh. “That is not going to happen, but I appreciate the offer.”
“Well, then I can show you the workshops if you like,” she offered.
“That sounds good.”
She gave the horse one final pat on the neck and moved around Rob to the stall door. He turned and followed.
After leaving the stable they walked further down from the lodge toward a large collection of long barn-like buildings. They went by large heaps of gravel, bark dust and rock which he had seen previously from the passenger seat of Banks’s car.
“Is this all for public works projects?” he asked.
“Some, yes. Renewal and restoration isn’t exclusively for parks and public roads. The engineering corps builds housing for the homeless and even does renovations on homes owned by the poor or those damaged by natural disasters.”
“How is that sustained? How does the corps support so many government workers?” Rob wondered aloud. “How does the state afford so much labor?”
“The state corps are not lucrative careers,” Justine explained. “They were never meant to be. Everyone who joins is aware that they are going into civil service. You’re guaranteed room and board, hot meals and a small stipend, and that’s it.”
“It doesn’t seem like it would it would be easy to motivate people to take a deal like that,” he commented skeptically.
“The motivations aren’t the same here as places where everyone does things just for money. Sure, there’s some of that. You have to pay the bills, but the state has been energized by the governor. People think about it like a project, something they are part of and want to work for. Many people came here from all over just to be a part of it.”
She was talking about the influxes of people who had immigrated to Wyoming after the governor began enacting his new policies. He had made it clear that he wanted anyone who was interested to flock there. It was basically a nationwide recruiting drive. He guaranteed a place to live to anyone who wanted to move. It was a plan based on the Amish barn raising. If anyone wanted to move to the state but could not afford it, the state corps of engineers would build them a simple cabin residence on state land. The presumption was that new residents would be invested in the community from the start.
“So this is all because of the governor?” he asked. “You think he is the only one who could have done it?”
“He woke a lot of people up from living just to live. A lot of people around the country don’t have much to live for except buying stuff and going to work— if they even have a job. I think there is a strong desire to be part of something tangible.”
“You don’t think American nationalism is good enough?” he asked, half sarcastically.
“It’s not present enough.” Justine replied. “Where is it? At football games? Public service announcements? It’s like a god that doesn’t even know you or even care to. It’s basically a joke.” She paused, becoming a little self-conscious. “What I mean is that what it means to be an American has changed so much that it’s basically meaningless.”
“Well, it means being free: liberal democracy and all that,” he offered.
“Free to do what? Earlier you tried to tell me that freedom to be a junkie is a good thing. Freedom isn’t anything. It’s an absence of purpose. Some people can live productive, decent, moral lives in that framework but not many.”
Rob shrugged. “Yes, but why does that matter? One of the points of liberal democracy is that a person can be as involved or uninvolved as they like. Apathy about some collective existence is the right of any citizen.”
“And how is that working out?” she asked defiantly. “How does the quality of life seem to be in the drug addicted, fragmented, selfish, atomized modern America?”
“People are fine. The advent of social media and demographic shifts, automation, they all create structural discomfort in the short run. Societies eventually settle into a new paradigm.”
Justine smirked. It wasn’t malicious but there was something in the expression which cut at him. “For caring so much about the individual and their freedom to make choices, you sure switched to clinical and collective language pretty fast when it came to the downside. Besides, if it’s all so good in the rest of the country, then why did so many people want to come here? The governor never offered wealth or promised success, just a place to belong and a common purpose. You don’t become the fastest growing state three years in a row because you offer something nobody wants or needs.”
“You don’t become the whitest state offering something everybody wants or needs.” Rob murmured, a little more resentfully than he had intended.
Justine smiled: “Only someone with the heart of a big city,” and she left it at that.
Their walking had slowed during the verbal skirmish and Rob had fallen a few steps behind while making some notes in his notebook. He decided to lay off the incendiary insinuations. “So it would be accurate to say that you’re a big fan of the governor then?”
“Sure,” she replied. “He’s great.”
“You know him personally?”
She glanced at him quizzically. “Of course. I worked as one of his assistants last summer. I went all over the place with him to meetings and groundbreaking ceremonies and all that kind of thing.”
Something was building up inside of Rob Coen, a mounting pressure of frustration and confusion, a blood-blinded fury that he had kept under wraps thus far in his attempts to be cordial and a diligent journalist. It had been veiled in a cloud of sickly resignation and foot-dragging discontent. Now it was electrified; no longer inert. First the interception at the airport, which he thought he had gotten over, and then being at the mercy of the governor’s schedule with only a vague promise that they would speak in the morning, and now this young woman, a girl still really, with her cryptic closeness to Governor Alexander and her way of speaking which was a bluntly honest charade.
He may be at their mercy but he was not at their whim. He stopped and let her keep on walking toward the clatter of the workshops until she turned slightly, noticed his positioning and stopped in the middle of the gravel path. Her wide, white forehead, small nose and large eyes, the whole thing heart-shaped and placid, was still so familiar for some reason.
His voice was a little sharper and harsher than he had intended, but he was still a few hours ahead from the flight and starting to get tired. This, combined with his building sensation which had not stopped, made him more careless than he would have been otherwise.
“What is this exactly? Who are you? I’m getting a little tired of the runaround.” He took note of the obvious annoyance in his own voice and paused to adjust. “I appreciate the hospitality, but you have to understand if I’m a little defensive, a little suspicious. I just came here to interview the governor.” He halted abruptly there because he was unsure of what else to say or any other way to express his deep disturbance.
She looked perplexed, and the bit of her which was still childlike passed across her features for the briefest instant in a mix of embarrassment and indignation. “You mean Banks didn’t tell you who I was?” As she asked, the placidity returned with perhaps the slightest hints of mischief and imperiousness.
“No,” Rob answered, almost visibly shrugging with his tone.
“Oh, well, the governor is my uncle,” she explained simply.
Rob was dumbstruck for a moment before it all began to fall into place and make perfect sense. He almost laughed aloud at the sudden change in his understanding of the circumstances. He even felt a little embarrassed. “No, Banks did not tell me. Forgive me for my annoyance.”
“It’s fine,” she responded, a little coolly. “You should be grateful that I agreed to babysit you for my uncle today. You could be stuck with Banks all day and be having to listen to his boring stories about the glory days. Who knows though. You’re a journalist. You would probably like that.”
Rob, diplomatically, did not agree or disagree. She turned to resume their progress to the workshops, and he fell in line. The possibilities for lines of inquiry with Justine had just multiplied greatly, and his head buzzed with activity as he tried them out in branching hypotheticals.
They reached the rows of long, metal-sided buildings and the noise of power tools, motors, and voices were such that he had to shout his questions, “So you obviously knew the governor when he was just your uncle and not into politics. What was he like back then?”
She shook her head as they walked past open bays with equipment under repair, implements he could not recognize under showers of sparks, the otherworldly shrieking of air tools cutting in through the ambient din at moments. “I didn’t really know him back before he was in politics. Sure, when I was a little kid he visited sometimes, but I don’t really remember that. He was in finance and worked back East for a while and we never saw him during those years. It wasn’t until he quit that and moved back that I really knew him at all.”
“And he’s related how exactly?” Rob asked, trying to stay close to her so that he could pick up every word over the noise.
“He’s my mom’s younger brother,” she explained. “They had a brother a few years older than her too, but he died.”
“You mind if I ask how?”
“Heroin. That’s one reason why he was so big on drug reform and started the Hospitallers. He didn’t want anyone else to lose someone like he did. I think he felt guilty because he was off in the city when it happened too.”
The narrative was locking into place in Rob’s head. “Let me guess. He wasn’t very close with his brother?” he asked.
Justine turned and gave him a pointed glance. “That would be accurate.”
“Do you know if he was interested in politics at all when he was younger? Did your mom ever mention that it was a long-term goal of his?”
Justine shrugged. “She doesn’t talk about it much. She says he was always restless, that he used to be scared of time passing when he was a kid. He would come and ask to sleep in her bed when he was six or seven because he said he could feel time rushing by and couldn’t stop it. She told me he was always good at history in school and was quiet and bookish but polite. She’s got a few anecdotes like that, but she’s never said he was in student government or anything.”
Rob was slightly taken aback by the detail she had offered into Governor Alexander’s childhood. It was very personal. He was suspicious of the candid statements, of course. One must take nothing at face value, especially when it seemed like a fortunate bit of information simply dropped at his feet.
They had passed by the workshops and the noise began to die out behind them. The path they followed wound through a screen of pine trees, which he recognized from visiting relatives in New Jersey. He was familiar with their characteristic straight trunks and sparse branches reaching out into green, bristly tufts. On the other side, they reached another collection of smaller structures that had the appearance of barracks in an old 19th century frontier fort. Justine explained that they were the bunkhouses for the workers.
“I had to stay in bunks kind of like these when I was with the Hospitallers,” she explained. It can be pretty uncomfortable, but you get used to it. I will always be glad that I spent time in the State Corps. It teaches you a great deal about giving up comfort and working hard. I don’t think most people understand that.”
She was good. Rob had to give her that. He could certainly see why Governor Alexander would use his niece as the preferred emissary to the reporter from the big city. Despite his clinical approach and desire to view her analytically, she seemed very genuine and even a bit disarming at moments. When the time came to meet the governor, he would have to be sure to take him on his own merits and nothing more.
After meandering between the bunkhouses for a few minutes as Justine explained the strict rules for cleanliness, hygiene, and morning assembly, and after Rob asked how such things were enforced, she explained that the corps were segmented into divisions with overseers who passed down discipline according to the state workers code of conduct.
“I can show you around the lodge a bit more if you like,” Justine offered.
Rob agreed, and they followed a path which led up past the parking lot where the immaculately maintained Town Car rested in the spot Banks had parked it. Justine was just about to cross the asphalt drive to the front of the lodge when two shiny black sedans pulled up between them and the wraparound porch before gliding to a stop a few dozen yards away nose to tail. The front passenger doors on each opened along with the rear right door on the car in the back.
Three men emerged. The one who stepped out of the front of the forward car was older and casually dressed: khaki pants, a light blue button-down shirt and a fuchsia-colored sweater vest. He was balding and had just a strip of gray hair running along the back of his dome-like head down to his sideburns, along with a slightly darker gray moustache. The two other men who stepped out of the rear car wore dark fitted suits. One appeared younger and was blonde. The other looked older and had dark features. Their hair and attire were attended to perfectly down to ironed pocket squares. They could be models for all Rob could tell, and they had that big shot city lawyer aura about them, that electromagnetic field that pulls in money and repels legal scrutiny with extreme force. He could practically smell it.
The older man in the sweater vest brightened upon seeing the governor’s niece. “Hey, Justine. Is the big man ready to see us?”
“I’ve been out, but he was in the conference room when I left. I’m sure he’s still there and will be late into the night. Besides, he’s always ready for you.”
The suited men crossed to the trunk of their sedan and began pulling out briefcases and two pieces of rolling luggage.
Rob leaned over to Justine and asked quietly, “Any idea who they are?”
“No idea specifically. They’re here on legal business with my uncle though.”
The three men finished with their luggage and made their way up to the porch, craning their necks to murmur to one another conspiratorially. The older man had not even appeared to notice Rob who was standing only a few feet from Justine.
She continued her explanation, “The older guy is Arthur Walden. He’s retired now.” She put a strange emphasis on the word ‘retired’ as though it was a cover for another word and Rob should have some inkling of what it really meant. “He was my uncle’s lawyer after the first campaign and during his first term. He’s probably the closest person to him and most trusted as far as advice goes.”
“Do you know what all this is about?” Rob asked. “The meeting and lawyers and all the legal business?”
“No,” she stated simply and then added with a smile: “And even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”
He smirked. “Hey I have to ask. It’s my job.”
Walden and the city lawyers clattered up the steps and then through the big wooden doors into the lodge. The drivers pulled the two sedans into the side lot. Justine peered at the front of the lodge as though she could see through the walls and see the governor sitting alone and waiting for the new arrivals.
“You seem worried,” Rob commented, trying not to sound like a disingenuous manipulator. He had no reason to care, aside from the expected utilitarian journalistic ones. She knew that of course, and he caught a glimpse of a slight flush on her neck, along with a pulling at the connective cords visible through the skin.
She turned and gave him a subtly defiant look. “You know, Walden is going to do a number on you. He did not like the idea of you coming here and he despises journalists.”
He had embarrassed her with the too personal observation and now he was paying the price.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he managed.
Justine was all business now. “If you would like to get situated in your room, then you have free reign of the place. Dinner is served from five to seven. Banks will be able to get you a visitor’s pass. Did you have any more questions?”
He didn’t mention that she had offered to show him around the lodge. “No, thanks. Will you be around?”
She shook her head. “I live in Jackson with my parents. I’ll be back day after tomorrow.”
“Thanks for showing me around the place. It really was nice meeting you,” he said, feeling suddenly very empty. He had not expected to meet someone like her in this place, and now, since she was leaving, his circumstances would revert back to the mundane expectations to which he had resigned himself for days up until his arrival. He stuck out a hand and she shook it very formally. He made note again of her very warm and slightly dry skin as she gave him the characteristic grim but earnest smile. He then followed the path of the lawyers up and to the front door of the lodge. He gave one final glance back and just barely spied the back of Justine’s head bobbing as she walked downhill toward the lower outlying buildings of Camp Hope. He made a mental note to adjust his approach if they crossed paths again.
Antelope Hill’s product page for the book can be found here: https://www.antelopehillpublishing.com/product-page/let-them-look-west-by-marty-phillips
4 Comments Add yours
Purchased on the strength of the excerpt, thank you for this.
Just posting this to see if other people feel the same way: ever since the world went literally insane over the last couple of years, I have an extremely difficult time watching any kind of movie for more than a few minutes or reading any fiction. I feel starved for legit information. None has been forthcoming in the media really. Just weird narratives and innuendo and insults etc. It’s hard to just read for the sake of it anymore for me.
IMO the pacing was kind of off, and the writing style could use improvement. Some of the notes come off as repetitive, and the information about the emissary’s appearance elicits a bonk from our friend doge. Subtlety is also key – everything seems to be stated outright, rather than shown through worldbuilding. That said, a book about a governor or local official breaking away, and what it would take (in terms of both political maneuvering and building the physical power necessary to avoid a color revolution) for him to succeed in doing so, would be very interesting. There’s a dearth of literature about meaningfully opposing the system as a breakaway political figure, despite all of the suggestions and momentum around building up locally, or at the state level. Writing up a short story, getting feedback, and iterating on that would probably help.
IMO the best place to start would be a short story covering a conflict during the politician’s campaign, or early career, before he’s essentially “won”, in the sense that we would see it. It’s easier to get away with heavy exposition at a campaign event, where long speeches wouldn’t be out of place, and there’s a clear, easy conflict. It’s also less distant from the present day, which makes it easier to both draw on real life for inspiration and connect with readers.
^^^^these are the types of criticisms that, while not invalid, are often answered in the full body of the book. using the journalist as the lens for the narrative has pros & cons as a tactic, one negative, especially early on, is that you can’t tell what’s narrator and what’s author. a positive is that it lets you do more with less, as we’re familiar with the archetype. i don’t love all the prose but i think it will be good, the best fiction lets you go someplace entirely different, and meet different sorts of people. i think this will do that, it’s done it a little already.