Writing Exercise – New Americana

The other day I stumbled across a new-to-me artist. Halsey has been a part of the music scene for a while, but I somehow missed her. Weird considering how much her voice, her style, her lyrics, her everything appeal to me. new-americana-halsey

After listening for a while, I realized I had heard one of her songs before, “New Americana.”

It’s the kind of song that conjures up images in my head of heroin dens and smoke filled rooms, of too-skinny kids moving in an underwater world that swims around them. It makes me think of distorted church choirs that got lost along the way, of dystopian futures where no one is happy, but some are better at being miserable.

And, of course, “New Americana” lends itself perfectly to a writing prompt.

As a reminder, the rules, if you want to call them that, are simple. Write for fifteen minutes. No edits. If you’re up to the challenge, post your results in the comments. I look forward to reading what you come up with. My offering is below the cut.

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“Don’t be an ass. All you have to do is track fifty-two numbers. Hell, not even fifty-two. It’s just four sets of thirteen. How hard is that?” Jackie sucked in a deep lungful of smoke and held it. Most kids had switched to the new sytho tabs that were more discreet and far more potent. But some, like her, were purists.

“I just get confused.” Rand took the joint, burned down so low that it must have singed her fingers, but she didn’t complain.

“And that’s why you can’t go in. Jacks and I got it.” Cole, the only one at the table who hadn’t smoked-up, but was still high from the thick haze of smoke clinging to very air they breathed, patted Rand on the back. Her hand lingered long enough for it to turn into a slow, easy caress. Jackie watched with muted curiosity. For months, those two had been circling each other. At some point, they needed to just get over it and fuck already.

Rand nodded. “I know. But I worry.” She took another drag, pulling the cherry, bright red and angry, between her fingers so far that Jackie almost knocked it away. Rand was stupid sometimes. She didn’t feel pain like a normal person, enjoying the sharp edges instead of shrinking from them. She dropped the remnants of the joint in the ashtray and sucked a finger into her mouth, a twisted smile on her lips.

“Nothing to worry about, sweets.” Jackie debated rolling another, but that would mean leaving the flat in search of more papers. Instead, she leaned back in her chair, balancing on two legs, and closed her eyes. With her head lolling back, hands loose at her sides, she felt like she was floating. Everything around her was sludgey and smooth, moving in half time. The smooth, low bass line coming through the open window–the bar downstairs featured live music on Friday nights–filled the air around her, permeating her pores and squeezing her heart in a slow, easy, almost-dull thump.

It took several minutes for Jackie to realize no one answered, which was okay. The quiet was good. She didn’t believe in wasting words just to fill silence and appreciated when her friends didn’t do it. But it was too long for Rand, who always rumbled with restless energy. She peeled open one eye to check on her friends.

Cole stood over Rand, one hand fisted in her hair, pulled taut in a way that Jackie knew first hand turned Rand on. With her other hand, she cupped Rand’s throat, her thumb pushed firm against Rand’s pulse. She kissed Rand, holding her tight and drawing her up to meet her lips. Rand released a tiny, blissed-out whimper, and Jackie dropped her chair to the floor, landing on all four legs with a heavy thud.

Cole tilted her head until she could meet Jackie’s gaze, but didn’t release the kiss. If anything, she deepened it, along with the pressure on Rand’s throat. Her eyes glittered threateningly, promising dark things that would no doubt unfurl with a spectacular rage of color. She broke the kiss, her lips still hovering over Rand’s, and said, “Well?”

She arched an eyebrow and an answering pulse of something very good flared to life low in Jackie’s belly. This wasn’t their norm, her and Cole. Sure, they shared, played, fucked other people, but they didn’t usually start without asking first. But the rising pulse of lust made it okay. Jackie wanted to see how far Cole could push Rand as much as Cole wanted to push her.

Jackie licked her lips and leaned forward slightly, her fingers digging in to her thighs to keep herself from doing anything more with them. She nodded. “Yeah, sure.”

Cole smiled, salacious and dirty, for just a fraction of a second before claiming Rand’s mouth in another, deeper, more possessive kiss. Jackie loosened the button on her jeans.

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2 thoughts on “Writing Exercise – New Americana

  1. We are all witches, raised with a fear of wood and gasoline. My home life was non-existent. Nobody has homes any more. You just are. All of us grew up scrabbling for whatever we could get to keep us fed and dry. Our parents are just from another time, they don’t get that the world has changed. You can see it in their eyes, all the dreams of what they had. And I’ve got dreams too, but my dreams are those of the new Youth. That’s what we are. While our parents remember the past, with things like mocha, career, and taxes, we imagine our future. I found this place in the middle of the city, and I made it my own. Little by little the Youth started joining me, maybe wanting to share a bit of my dream. It’s not like we have schools, the institutions of learning from our parent’s time. Life has taught us all we need to know. What good does a school do, if you have no home, no food, and you live in fear every day? No, I take my chances on my terms. I know the elders back at the village think we are wild, they think we don’t care at all about our future. But there is a lot they don’t know. Yes, when we’re inside we drink homemade wine, we gamble, and we fuck. But we are responsible too. We have a dry bed every night, we have friends, we laugh and we dance. They don’t see us taking shifts in the garden we planted. They don’t see us running through the woods in teams to hunt for food. They are unaware that I developed a system to bring water from the river, and take waste away. We don’t need the ‘electricity’ of their past, we only need ourselves and our dreams of the future. Sadly, despite all that we have accomplished, the fear is still a daily threat to our lives and loves. When the elder’s past came crashing down, before any of us were born, the wolves came to power. There are a few out there who have resources, people, and weapons. They are ignorant and afraid, and they are terrified of our independence. We don’t need their handouts, we don’t need their protection. And because of this, they slander us as witches, as dangerous, insurgent, terrorists. But we’re just kids.
    I’m not sure why they all look to me, but they always have. I’m good at solving problems, I’m good at seeing the bigger picture, and figuring out possibilities ahead of time. But I never saw this. Those people with resources apparently got tired of us living our own lives. Men came bearing guns and scavenged helmets. Everyone was running in fear, everyone knew the consequence of getting caught outside the villages. The men came, and with no weapons of our own we were easily rounded up. They demanded to know who the leader was, they demanded he step forward. But there was no he, only me. The man in charge said he’d start shooting people one by one until I spoke up. Me, the girl would would lead the Youth. We all knew that was certain death, but I could feel their eyes on me. They turned to me one by one. The man jerked me back and out of the room. My hands were bound behind me and they took me away. It was a long march back to the village, and I knew what was to come. You see, I said we were witches, and I meant exactly that. I’d read some of the old stories and I knew a lot of fear and ignorance had come full circle in this broken world of ours. The man would make an example of me; wood and gasoline would bring fire to my future. I screamed and raged the entire way there.
    As we made our way through the village, dirty faces turned my way. Tired eyes following me made my skin crawl. Where were my people? Where was the Youth that I had led for so long? I assumed they were either afraid to come near, or were taken away to work camps after the man marched me away. Either way, my fate was sealed the minute my wrists were bound to the post. The gasoline burned my eyes and choked me as it ran down my body in rivulets. And I knew my last view of the world would be the look in the man’s eyes as he set my world on fire. He gave a satisfied smirk as he moved the torch toward the pile of wood.
    His hand jerked away at the first sounds of screaming. Smoke came pouring through the village, along with hundreds of Youth. My Youth! They had come to free me, to take down the man. Skin still reeking of fuel, I was careful to steer clear of the torches as we ran free from the village. I know we lost some, but behind me I could hear hundreds of feet pounding the earth as we made our escape. I don’t know where we will go just yet, I only know we have to get away. We have to live to plan for a better future, we have to find a safe place and stay there. Because the man will never stop until he burns the Youth to the ground. I saw the look in his eyes in those last few seconds. That look was one of anger and resentment. He was nothing more than a trapped animal in a world in which he had no real control. No matter what I do, or where life takes us, I could never be the man. I’ve got too much freedom in me.

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