This is an excerpt from Winds of Change, the third novel in the Dandelion Trilogy.
You can find it here>>
It was a time of giddiness and babble, when the world seemed hopeful and lost all at once. Possibility lurked on the edge of each moment. Disaster loomed across every horizon. With humanity at a crossroads, the clock ticking in the earth’s heartbeat, the Dandelion Insurrection took a deep breath . . . and went flying on the winds of change.
The night hung dark in all directions. Across the pooling black of the lake, distant drunken whoops shot out. A pitched shriek echoed over the water. A crackle erupted in the sky. Starbursts lit up the night. Cheers lifted on the shore. An off-key anthem praised rockets’ red glare. The smell of charcoal briquettes swept past and vanished.
Back when that song was written, it would have been the stench of burning flesh, Charlie thought cynically.
He lay on his back in the bottom of a metal rowboat in the middle of a lake on the Fourth of July. Red and blue hues of fireworks electrified his features in brief flashes. Angular and aching, his face bore the lines of a youth who has seen too much and knows secrets that wake him up at night. His sandy hair gleamed green for an instant as a firework bloomed above him. The crackling pink trails of the explosion turned his blue eyes violet.
The light fizzled. Darkness dropped like a shroud. Charlie Rider disappeared from sight once again. Only the strip of glow tape and the solar lights attached to the stern and bow remained, bobbing like drunken stars stumbling in the black sky. The sound of splashing arose, rhythmic and confident. A murky figure swam up to the boat. The metal pinged with the slap of a palm. Zadie Byrd Gray’s laughing eyes lifted over the gunwale. The vessel lurched in the water.
“You should come in,” her breathless voice enticed.
“It’s too cold,” he answered, not budging from the comfort of the blankets layered in the hull. He grimaced. She’d soak him when she clambered back in, dripping and naked, teeth chattering and skin bluish under the cover of darkness.
“Makes you feel alive,” Zadie urged, releasing the edge of the boat and diving back into the inky waters.
The triple flowers of the next fireworks illuminated her face when she resurfaced. Her black curls were plastered tight against her skull by water-weight. Her pale skin gleamed for a second, limbs strange and froglike under the surface of the lake.
Typical Zadie Byrd Gray, he thought with a small chuckle, skinny-dipping under the Independence Day fireworks.
It had been his idea to row out and escape the mayhem of the shore. His massive extended family had all gathered at the gravely beach for corn-on-the-cob, hotdogs and burgers, and apple pie. His cousins had contributed a devastating vat of homebrew. Zadie’s father, Bill, launched into a tirade on the shortcomings of the Founding Fathers – a lecture they’d both heard a thousand times. When Charlie whispered in Zadie’s ear, she leapt at the chance to slip off. They shoved the boat into the water and rowed out to watch the fireworks. Charlie texted his mother so she wouldn’t suddenly glance up with panic thundering in her chest when she didn’t see him. She’d lost too many nights of sleep over her revolutionary son. He’d been shocked to see grey streaks in her hair when he had returned home to Northern Maine.
The boat tipped as Zadie heaved her torso out of the water. Charlie sat up and countered the weight. He handed her a towel as she rolled in, sopping.
“Brrr,” she gasped, “I swear there’s still ice at one end of the lake.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me in the least,” Charlie answered. Though the spring melt had long passed, the water in Northern Maine wouldn’t lose its frigid edge until August – and even then, only in the top few feet of sunlight-pierced waves.
A good metaphor for revolutions in this country, Charlie thought darkly. They never went deep enough to keep out the chill of centuries of injustice.
Another collection of fireworks boomed overhead.
They’d fought and struggled for so long, shining bold as dandelions, piercing the darkness of the hidden corporate dictatorship, making so much progress, and yet . . . the sheer weight of injustice still thundered like an oncoming train wreck through the lives of the people. The backlog of misery accumulated by centuries of rich people’s rule had a momentum of its own. A nation could only be neglected for so long before the moth-eaten holes of the social fabric crumbled into dust. It would take a hundred years to dig out of the mess of the hidden corporate dictatorship.
And they didn’t have a hundred years.
They’d ousted the corrupt politicians, replaced them with decent enough officials, thwarted a counter-revolutionary take-over, and halted the corporatists’ continued efforts to steal anything that wasn’t nailed down. It still wasn’t enough. He and Zadie had worked non-stop to get bills passed through Congress, held an emergency election for a single-term transitional president, and ensured that hundreds of corrupt officials were prosecuted by the legal system. It had been a herculean effort, worthy of a thousand medals of honor, but the reports kept rolling in, bad and getting worse. Drought in the farmlands. Corporate businesses declaring bankruptcy and vanishing to avoid penalties on a decade of unregulated abuse. Global banking sanctions. Threats from other superpowers. A military on the verge of mutiny. Crumbling infrastructure. Debt balloons collapsing with a pffftzzing whine. Turmoil and chaos.
And now, the rising rumble of fear was triggering a backlash. The law-and-order crowd was calling for stability, traditions, and the good old days. Behind them, the good old boys lurked in the shadows, trying to regain power. There were no easy answers to the problems anymore. It had been so simple to oppose the tyranny of the old regime – everyone despised the hidden dictatorship – but it was so much harder to get people to agree on the solutions and next steps.
Charlie flexed his aching fingers. He’d been writing all afternoon. Dusk had fallen, unnoticed, by the time Zadie unexpectedly slapped his laptop shut. He glanced up, bleary-eyed from staring at the glaring screen.
“Time’s up,” she declared. “It’s a holiday, remember?”
“Humph,” he snorted.
“Don’t start that,” she warned, shaking her black curls. “Suspend your cynicism. Enjoy the fireworks, for once.”
Charlie groaned, but rose to his feet. They had a deal: he could scribble away the afternoon, reflecting on revolutionary themes for his next essay, but then he had to watch the fireworks over the lake with her. Charlie had agreed to come only after she threatened to throw his laptop in the water and run off with one of his cousins who knew how to have a good time.
“We’re national heroes, Charlie, m’boy,” she teased him. “Come grin-and-bear the Fourth of July. At least we didn’t have to go to any parades in DC.”
After his series of blistering rebukes to politicians about the lack of progress on social reforms, their public appearance schedule had cleared out considerably.
“Keep criticizing Congress and we can finally retire,” Zadie joked.
But it was no laughing matter. Revolutionary truth-tellers rose and fell on waves of change, propelled or repelled by the opportunists of the hour. The same people who applauded them for tackling the hidden corporate dictatorship detested them when Charlie turned his mighty pen toward their shortcomings. Charlie never forgot that Thomas Paine, for all his Common Sense, died obscure and alienated from his peers, disillusioned by counterrevolutions in France and the constitutional conservatism in the United States.
As it was, both he and Zadie had been politely disinvited from the Fourth of July ceremonies in Washington, DC. It was an honor they neither sought nor mourned. Instead, they came north to spend time with family – or at least, Zadie had. Charlie cloistered himself in the back bedroom of his grandfather’s camp by the lake and tried to ignore the patriotic fervor of the weekend. It nauseated him. Though he loved his country fiercely, he couldn’t stomach its shows of patriotism.
A starburst of a crackler erupted as they settled down on the bottom of the boat. Zadie curled tight to his side, the chill of the metal muffled by the towels, scratchy wool picnic blanket, and his churning furnace of body heat.
“Did you ever wonder,” she asked, “if we wrote the Constitution today, would we do it the same way? I mean, that was two hundred and fifty years ago. People rode horses to send messages. Most people couldn’t read – heck, most people weren’t even considered people – enslaved Africans were counted as three-fifths human. Indigenous Peoples were considered ‘savages’ that needed to be conquered or controlled by white people. White women were considered the property of their husbands and fathers. The poor, including indentured servants, couldn’t vote or run for office.”
“Most of our political history is the story of how we rewrote our Constitution to include more of us,” Charlie answered.
“Yeah, but if all of us could have participated in the crafting . . . if we designed a new system, right now, what would we, the People, create?” Zadie rolled onto her side and leaned on her elbow, cheek propped in hand, eyes aglow with thought. “Would we stick with a representative republic? Would we include more direct democracy? Would we add anything to the systems of checks and balances? What about consequences – like docked pay or getting fired – for officials who refuse to enact the demonstrated will of the people?”
Charlie could almost see the ideas exploding in her mind as she spoke, fireworks of possibility lighting up the darkness for brief, vanishing flashes. He’d spent plenty of sleepless nights mulling on these same concepts. They always fizzled out by morning. Crumpled paper littered his writing area like fireworks casings on the Fifth of July shores.
“People don’t even know what democracy is,” he reminded Zadie. “They’ve been taught that the unparalleled brilliance of the Founding Fathers gave us the best system in the world, and there’s no need to change it.”
“American Exceptionalism is such a deadly brainwashing technique,” Zadie grumbled, flopping back down on the blanket and setting the boat rocking. “It makes us unwilling to improve.”
“If we rowed back to the beach and asked anybody – except your dad, he doesn’t count – if we should rewrite the Constitution, they’d throw a hotdog at you and dunk you in the lake.”
That was the irony of the Fourth of July: there was nothing revolutionary about it. The nation celebrated patriotic loyalty to an unjust system rather than the revolutionary willingness to upend the world in search of greater equality and justice. On the day that honored the courage of those who defied global superpowers, their descendants followed rote patterns of tradition without deviation, year after year.
Charlie might not have minded if it happened on September 17th, Constitution Day. Then, at least, the obvious self-worshipping rhetoric wouldn’t be hypocritical. But a day commemorating revolution ought to be, well . . . more rebellious. People should spend the day asking the very questions Zadie had just raised, thinking critically about the political system, and working to correct outstanding injustices so that the “truths held to be self-evident” could be reflected in the politics and practices of the nation. They should spend the day advancing the quest for life and liberty. They make sure the pursuit of happiness could be actualized by every citizen, not just by some.
And then, he admitted with a chuckle, after a long day of making meaningful strides toward liberty and justice for all, then we might set off a few fireworks and slice up the apple pie.
“This holiday is the same as all our others – militarized, commercialized, corporatized beyond recognition or meaning,” he grumbled. His bitter comment hung on the summer air, hollowed by the metal boat and softened by the lapping waves. “If we want a deeper kind of democracy, it’ll take another revolution to get it.”
He could feel the curl of Zadie’s smile even in the dark.
“Good thing,” she replied, “we know a revolutionary or two.”
A trio of fireworks lit up the sky, red, white, and blue, one right after the other. Charlie watched the colors illuminate Zadie’s face in shades of warning, hope, and possibility. The red faded last, an uncanny glow of rockets’ glare, a reminder that tradition did not die easily and that patriotism sometimes fought against change.
This is an excerpt from Winds of Change, the third novel in the Dandelion Trilogy.
You can find it here>>