In the wake of the apocalypse, Flora has come of age in a highly gendered post-plague society where females have become a precious, coveted, hunted, and endangered commodity. But Flora does not participate in the economy that trades in bodies. An anathema in a world that prizes procreation above all else, she is an outsider everywhere she goes, including the thriving all-female city of Shy.
Now navigating a blighted landscape, Flora, her friends, and a sullen young slave she adopts as her own child leave their oppressive pasts behind to find their place in the world. They seek refuge aboard a ship where gender is fluid, where the dynamic is uneasy, and where rumors flow of a bold new reproductive strategy.
When the promise of a miraculous hope for humanity’s future tears Flora’s makeshift family asunder, she must choose: protect the safe haven she’s built or risk everything to defy oppression, whatever its provenance.
Book three in the Road to Nowhere series, Meg Elison’s The Book of Flora is available April 23rd from 47North. Read an excerpt below!
The Bambritch Book
Fog moon, summer
Year 144, Nowhere Codex
Last night I dreamt I was back in Nowhere again.
I don’t know why. I haven’t seen Nowhere in so many years that I can’t number them, and I only ever stayed there for a few days, maybe a week.
But it was where I met Alice. Alice, the drugmaker with the impossible curls and the cruel, clever mouth. Alice, the keeper of som for sleep and hands for waking. Where Eddy brought me when I decided not to go home to Jeff City. Eddy, living child of Ina, killer of the Lion and liberator of the Lion’s harem. Eddy, my lover and my hero, whom I lost in the end. Eddy, raider of the road and hero of Nowhere. Eddy, forever in my heart. Alice and Eddy gave me my first taste there of something I hardly knew was possible, and it was where I learned something I would never forget. Nowhere. Nowhere. Nowhere.
Nowhere was beautiful in my dream. The old women with their wooden baby bellies were coming and going across the open square, with Hives of men trailing after them, carrying baskets and buckets and babies. I saw Ina clearly, though she was younger than I ever knew her. I saw her wide smile, and I looked down to see that her belly wasn’t wood but flesh. She was pregnant with Eddy, close to giving birth. She was carefree, having no idea that this child would almost cost her her own life.
I saw Connie, my living child. Connie who was neither boy nor girl, neither breeder nor horsewoman, not he or she but always they. Connie was never in Nowhere. Or maybe they were; I have no way of knowing what they’ve seen on their long walk in the world. Seeing them in a dream always crushes my heart like a tomato in the hand. I wake up crying. I end up calling out. I could only see them from the back; even in dreams, Connie is lost to me. As Nowhere is lost. As so much is lost.
I wasn’t there when the Paws of the Lion took Nowhere. I was locked up in his harem, far away. Alice held out as long as she could; she was strong. But she had everything there to make som, and he always needed more. The men who kept harems in those days almost always had a drugmaker. Once the Lion had Alice, he was never going to let her go. He sent his Paws after her lab and told them to take the town.
In my dream, I was there when they took it. They burned houses and fields. They caught women and children and tied them up like cattle; they cut men down where they stood. They took apart the careful work of more than a hundred years in so little time.
Destruction is easy. Creation is so much harder.
Nowhere wasn’t much, but it was the first place I felt free. It was imperfect, but it was as if there was a piece of me waiting there, ready to join the whole, that I hadn’t even known about. I suppose that is why I dream it still.
That, and the Midwife.
I understand her better now. For years I thought I never would, since she knew the old world and had lost a peace I couldn’t imagine. But I’ve done that now. I’ve seen peace. I’ve seen cities that have lights at night and free people and I’ve been loved as I was meant to be loved. I have grasped all possibility, felt its enormity, and lost it all. Like she did. I can follow her now. Not literally, like we tried to. But in my heart.
The Midwife didn’t build Nowhere; it waited for her as the dark earth waits for a seed. But all that we have now of Nowhere is its story, and that was hers first. She was the one who survived the Dying, all the way out on the coast, and came across endless miles to find a safe place. She saw the old world destroyed by plague, countless numbers dead and no Mothers left alive. She was the one who walked in the world as a man when being a woman wasn’t safe. She was the one who waited through the years for a child to be born, never letting her tools go rusty. She knew the world would need Midwives once again, and she helped build Nowhere on that hope. Her work goes on; Motherhood lives forever on the doorstep of death. She understood that. She brought this new world out of fever and into being. I have tried to do the same.
I have kept her books all these years, through all the times I have moved and fled across this broad continent. She is always with me, though I will never know if my copy of her story is complete. Eddy used to say that no two copies were perfectly alike, since the boy scribes of Nowhere made mistakes, and some volumes were not as popular as others. Mine might be the last copy, but I doubt it. She meant just as much to so many others.
When Nowhere was burned, the people who were there barely got out with their lives. The people who returned to rebuild were able to recover a few things—tools and seeds and the odd scraps of remembrance.
But books are so fragile. Paper and leather and wood cannot stand up to fire or water or time.
And there is one thing I know is true in this world: only what is remembered survives. Only what is written has a chance in the future. People forget. Rivers rise. Stories and songs are snuffed out every time some town takes a fever or loses to a man with a little power.
Destruction is common. Creation is rare.
Because I know this truth, I must do two things. First, I must collect and keep as many pieces of record and evidence as I can, to ensure that they do not pass out of this world. Second, I must write my own record so that it survives. I must write the people in my life into the record as well, just as the Midwife did, so that they survive, too. I sometimes do as she did, putting the book into their hands. I write it for them. I did it more when I was younger. I trusted too much then.
I know why I dreamt of Nowhere, but I’m afraid that by writing it down I will make it real. I know why I taste ashes on the wind, why I cannot sleep, why I keep thinking of friends and lovers I have lost not to age or sickness but to the hands of wanton destruction.
I do not want to face what is coming. I cannot imagine my life’s work wiped out. I will not.
I will instead finally set myself to the task of telling what has not been told.
I began to write the stories of my days when I was already a grown woman, thirty summers gone and sure of who I was and my place in the world. I did not begin until I had read the Midwife’s story, until I had seen the blank pages of Eddy’s book. Eddy left home with that leather book from his mother and never found a way to put himself or his story in it. The Midwife told it all and Eddy held it all inside. I guess everyone who shares their story gets to choose. I wanted to land between them somehow. I started late, but I went to the task with determination and detail. The volumes of my life are already too numerous to move them with me if I have to flee this place when the army advances on us. If they have all the power of thoughtless destruction people say that they have. And there are other books I would choose first, if I had to carry them out of here in a hurry.
They are coming. Every raider and scout and small holding farmer and fisher tells the same story. They are coming in numbers we can’t imagine, in old-world war machines that cannot be stopped. Tanks. Long guns mounted on trucks. Missiles that can destroy a whole village. Plague-weapons, like the ones that caused the death of the old world. I don’t know what to believe. One of the raiders, Speel, draws pictures of everywhere the army has gone. Flowers and deer and lizards and crumbling cities. They brought one back of a mass grave, where the army had made the people dig a pit and stand before it, so that they could shoot them and let them fall in. The bodies weren’t covered. Speel drew them as they were, with bugs crawling in their open eyes.
Yesterday, someone told me the army has a plane, maybe more than one. I cannot believe that. If they did, they would be here already.
They are taking cities and towns. They are headed straight for us, intent on the old city of Settle. The people in Settle cannot fight them. Neither can we.
I am undertaking this work in the hope—no. In the firm belief that there will be eyes to read this story, and people to keep the pages safe from fire and water and time. This is my act of faith. I am not going to live my death until it comes for me, not even in my imagination. I will not turn what has not yet occurred into a memory. I will spend these next uncertain days turning memory into record. One will last. The other will not.
Many of the books I have read and kept here begin with wonderful sentences, like doors opening into a vast, untouched building from the old world. I would love to begin like one of them, but I cannot think how. I would begin my life with the beginning of my life. I would tell you that I was born with a gift or a sense, or under the shining of an auspicious star. I would tell you to call me by my name or acknowledge a universal truth. I would like to say that I was born twice, but I was not. I would promise you that this is my best, my saddest, my only, my very true story. Even here, at the top of this entry, I have nearly stolen another. I have been told many times that the tale begins with “in the beginning” or “once upon a time,” but neither of those is right.
I cannot begin at the beginning; I wasn’t there. I cannot even begin at one particular moment in time; I do not remember how this got started. Neither does anybody else. We only know the story we are given, unless someone writes the truth of it down. And even then, it isn’t the whole truth. Only theirs. As this is mine.
I can only tell you what was told to me, and most of that was probably lies. The person who told me who I was and showed me my place in the world very seldom told the truth. I still believe that telling the story from the beginning is the only way to do it.
Whether it is true or not, it is the only story I have.
My name is Flora. This book is my life.
Text Copyright © 2019 by Meg Elison, posted with permission from 47North.