Tyler  McNamara
Writing. World Building. Game Design.

Reality Fan Fiction

1862 Homestead act + being a weirdo

"You're a sore sight for sad eyes. You look like a jackrabbit lost his tail in a fox's jaws."
Philip Cox was my first friend in Liberty. No. If I'm being honest with myself he was my first friend period.
"No sir, the only thing I lost was a fight."
"Schoolyard brush by the look of it."
I shrugged, "Doesn't matter."
"This is the first time you tried to catch a Tartar?"
"Yes sir, assuming you mean the first time I've had a brawl."
"You're from Boston." I must have looked at him wide-eyed and amazed because he smiled and made a gravely  sound somewhere between a wheeze and a laugh.  "Have a seat," he said gesturing to the front step, beside which he himself sat in a woven Quaker chair in the shade of his small, one room cabin.
I entered his yard and held out my hand to him, "Noble. Noble Winthrop."
He took it, his hand was wrinkled and soft, and his skin felt thin and loose. "Pleasure. Name's Philip Cox."
I sat down beside him and couldn't help but notice a ball jar of a tan liquid that sat between us. He caught me looking and said, "Applejack. I keep myself busy by jacking over the winter. You looks like you're between hay and grass. Help yourself if you fancy a taste."
"Thank you, no." We sat in silence for a while. The shade felt good and after it had cooled my skin I could feel the heat of what would surely be a bruise on my cheek. Eventually I asked, "How'd you know I was from Boston?"
He smiled and his eyes looked far off, "You talk like a Pilgrim reading the paper."
I tried to smile without using half my face. "Before we moved to Indiana I used to work for the Herald."
"He turned to look at me. You pulling my horns? I never would have taken you for a slang-whanger."
"Oh, I wasn't a... writer." I said, guessing what he meant by 'slang-whanger',  "I mean, I write, but not like a journalist. I was a delivery boy."
"You miss it," he told me.
"I do. Before we moved Mother listed me all the friends she was going to miss the most, but I told her I'd miss reading the news. It makes me nervous not knowing how far north has the Union pushed, or what's happening with the Missouri Sioux?"
"They're both still fighting. No need to know whose fists are where, just who hit first and who hit hardest. Why'd you get hit?"
I took an swig of the Applejack. It was sweeter and not so alcoholic as Laird's, or really anything with its own label. "Shiloh, the sack of bricks that sits behind me in school, followed me afterward and knocked my journal out of my hands. He then offered me a proposition: The only way I'd get it back was to fight him. I've never been in a fight before so I took a pose like a boxer I'd seen in an advertisement for mustache wax. Shiloh laughed and hit my arm making me pop myself in the jaw with my own fist. I felt my lip split and when I lowered my arms he cocked me with a haymaker that sent me to the dirt."
Philip shook his head, "Back when I was younger, I worked for Morehead, Waddell & Co. I made this delivery, small, only a ounce, for which I had to collect a two dollar fee. My first mistake was handing him the package before he'd paid, my second mistake was not noticing he was drunk, my third was declining to fight and getting my flint fixed while my back was turned."
"Thanks for the conversation Mr. Cox--"
"Philip, he corrected."
"--Philip. I should be on my way before my folks get nervous." He nodded and set back to watching clouds.
Two days later, Philip Cox was stetting out in the shade passing the time. I waved to him and he waved me over. "Afternoon Noble, got time to chew the fat with an old fool?"
I pulled a long piece of wheat-grass from his front yard and placed it between my molars. As I sat down beside him. He looked at me from the corner of his eyes and asked, "What's Future World?"
"It's the... How do you know about Future World?"
His chair was closer to the step today than it had been before. He leaned over and took my journal from under the front step, and turned it over in his hands. "That boy Shiloh's meaner than trapping cats in a pillowcase..."  He opened the book and read.
"You don't understand!" Said Ander, "I'm not from here, I'm from the future. In Future World there are telegraphs that run to everyone's house, which run through a box that turns your words into morse code, then back into words at the other person's house."
Everyone laughed at him, and pointed at his strange costume, which was a kind of one piece union suit made out of a material that kept him warm in the cold and cool in the heat.
"It's true, the sky is darkened by the wires running overhead. News isn't written down anymore, it's spoken directly into everyone's homes three times a day!"
But the people were unfamiliar with anything more advanced than a drawn carriage, and as Ander tried to explain about things which to us are as magnificent as a locomotive, he only made his situation worse.
"How old are you?" Philip asked.
"Fourteen," I said around the considerably shortened wheat-grass.
"When I was fourteen no one had ever heard of a locomotive. They had been invented already, but we hadn't heard of it. When I did I thought it was a stupid idea. You call it magnificent but nothing will ever be as magnificent as a horse. A horse can ride anywhere, but a train is enslaved to its tracks."
I shook my head, "Train's can move faster and carry more."
He stared off at the clouds for a long time, I didn't want to interrupt him but I was still fuming with pride. I tried imagining something that was better than a horse. What would Ander ride in Future World? A train without wheels? With legs? No, I'm just trying to recreate a horse. A train with a will of its own, maybe?
Finally Philip spoke, "My point is that your Future World assumes things are better."
"They are better--"
"Don't interrupt!" He barked in his grizzled voice, "You have before you, at your service," he tipped an imaginary hat, "a real, live time-traveler."
I was shocked, but not because I believed him.
"When I was working for Morehead, Waddell & Co. I would ride from Boston to Hartford to Philadelphia. Riding between the big cities was like going back and forth in time: the houses change, the language changes, things get simpler, people get friendlier. I moved to Liberty to escape time, but it keeps coming. Why would you want to go and speed it back up?"
Despite my manners I stood and yelled at him, "I hate that it's so simple out here. I hate it! I didn't want to move but Father said the homestead was a good investment, but I don't belong here!" I turned and walked away.
I was mad for days without knowing why. I started taking a different route to school and back, which took me past the train station and telegraph office next door. Two buildings dedicated to transportation, one shipping information, the other progress. I thought of Future World and it's sky darkened by telegraph lines, and wondered if these two industries would grow alongside each other and the ground would be hardened by rails spider-webbing out in all directions. I remembered that Philip had worked on horseback until the telegraph lines had put him out of work, and realized that he hadn't come here to escape, he had gotten left behind.

No, that's me. Philip wants to live simply. I'm the one who's afraid of being left behind.