The Medicine Girl

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Write a story involving a character who cannot return home.... view prompt

72 comments

Adventure Coming of Age Speculative

Ever since the state of Florida had been cordoned off as a free range penal colony, the Medicine Girl had planned her escape. 

There were not many places to go. 

The warming seas now spawned enormous hurricanes throughout the year, so her father and other marauding tribes of prisoners grew skillful in watching the winds and in studying the movement of mercury in ancient barometers. They had to become proficient in many things. Since the wars, there was no cavalry coming to rescue anyone. 

Her father had refused to leave, trusting the tropical terrain and knowing the remaining ecosystem well enough to survive, to form a tribe, to raise a daughter. It wasn’t hard to find fish, usually three-eyed and gasping in the yellow nights. It wasn’t hard to find water, but it was usually brackish and needed desalination. It wasn’t hard to defend the Medicine Girl and himself, a beast of a man who wielded a stone-sharpened machete and a length of motorcycle chain with ease, sometimes both at the same time. 

But he was getting older and the Medicine Girl was getting prettier. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

Double rows of razor wire and anti-personnel landmines were planted as indiscriminately as dandelion seeds from Jacksonville to New Orleans, doing an effective job in keeping undesirables exactly where the United Authority wanted them to be. 

The Medicine Girl’s father stood by her near the reinforced barrier to the Kingdom of Georgia with two older men, both war-torn and weary. One of the men grimaced, in obvious physical pain. The other man looked stoically determined. She paid little attention to either, focusing solely on her father’s last instructions. 

“What do you have to sustain you?”

“Dried fish, a flask of water, sunflower seeds, may-haw berries.”

“What do you have to heal you?”

“Honey, thyme, Neo.” At the last, the Medicine Girl held up a little yellow tube. Before, her father had been the keeper of the yellow tubes, but the ointment was too valuable now not to be fought for on occasion. He had the scars to show for it. Several had died, fighting to acquire Neo’s medicinal properties, curing oozing wounds and purulent infections that often led to raging fever, disability, or death. It was one of the tribe’s most treasured possessions, just like the Medicine Girl.

“Travel at night. Go north on the Nine Five. Go west on Two Six at Central Carolina. Take the Seven Seven until you see the ruins at Charlotte Banks. Avoid anyone in a uniform. Declare your allegiance to no one.”

The Medicine Girl nodded. Charlotte Banks had held all of the cryptocurrency before Wall Street and the EMP bombs fell. Any gold in the reserves was as useless as the black glass rectangles found on so many corpses before the war, before the electricity stopped. 

“We have people in Old North Carolina,” he said. “Tell them who you are descended from. We are still known in those places. Find the Militia of the White Crosses.” 

With that, he wordlessly instructed the two old men to run on to the razor wire. The physically ill man landed first, his body cut to shreds. The other man crawled over his body and landed squarely on the second sharpened strand. He quickly impaled himself as well, allowing the Medicine Girl to scramble over both bodies and into the swampy marshes just outside the Florida penal colony. 

Now all the Medicine Girl needed to face were the landmines.

🜋 🜋 🜋

It had been a decade since the former wastelands of China and Russia coordinated cyber attacks, crippling America’s crumbling power grids, water treatment plants, and financial sectors in all 59 states. North Texas was especially hit hard by a series of high altitude nuclear electromagnetic pulse bursts. The resulting EMP detonations destroyed all circuitry from South Oregonian to Classical Massachusetts. Even if there were still-functioning power plants, the transformers, transmission, and distribution lines instantaneously became incapable of relaying power. 

Much like the federal, state, and local governments. 

That was all the Medicine Girl heard the older tribe members gripe about: what happened in the past and what could happen in the future. There was no now. But there was no going back either. There was no “land of the free, home of the brave.”

The Medicine Girl had never known a real home, just the thickets and fields and woods in the North Florida wilds, her mother patiently showing her all the treasures from the earth before she was taken.

Now? Behind every tree or rock lay someone who wanted something, the scarcity of resources causing people to take by force what they needed or, more often, simply what they wanted.

We are civilized as long as we are comfortable, her mother had said, showing her again the plants that healed in time and the plants that killed in minutes. 

The Medicine Girl arose with the sun, leaving her hiding place. She slept at night, knowing her father would send other men. Her mother had warned her about his duplicity. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

From a safe distance, the Medicine Girl watched the men come down the Nine Five. She was sure these were the men her father had sold her to. Did he not think she understood his furtive glances and thinly-veiled remarks? Just because she was quiet didn’t mean she was an idiot. She knew her father would barter for anything that kept him alive for just a little longer and in a little more comfort. 

Declare your allegiance to no one, she thought, knowing the black cherry flatbread she left for her father and his men contained powdered black cherry tree leaves. After she had left, the Medicine Girl was certain he’d break bread with his conspirators, soon finding themselves staggering and convulsing. They’d be dead in less than an hour. 

As the men passed south on the decrepit highway, the Medicine Girl walked in a northwesterly direction. From the information she had gathered, the land all the way to South Mexico was utterly barren, but the State of United Dakota seemed promising. At least there was talk of potable water and fertile fields. She had even heard talk of the existence of bumblebees in that clime.

With one last glance at the men, now far enough not to be a threat, the Medicine Girl shook a handful of sunflower seeds into her mouth and journeyed on. 


June 15, 2021 20:40

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

72 comments

Ash Jarvis
00:17 Jun 17, 2021

This story was wonderful, with an incredibly strong setting (three-eyed fish!) and memorable characters, most of whom I hope to never meet (wow, that father). I’ve always loved Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” trilogy and this reminded me of that in many ways :) One suggestion—I wondering if you might want to foreshadow her father’s betrayal, and her knowledge of it, early on. I am thinking of something subtle, as in “…Medicine Girl was getting prettier, and more valuable”. I realize that you may not want to tip your hand to your readers,...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:20 Jun 17, 2021

I will happily take the Atwood comparison -- she is up there with Neal Shusterman's Unwind and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Hopefully I can write as well as they do in the future. I think the father's betrayal is hinted at when he thinks of him getting older and her getting prettier. It's a shift, but like at endings (hopefully) surprising but expected. He's a beast, through and through.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jamie Harvey
16:35 Jun 23, 2021

Whoa. Great story. I was hooked for sure. And the picture of what the future could hold was unnerving, but so well written. Great job.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
19:56 Jun 23, 2021

Thanks Jamie! I posted a sequel if you’re interested 🌿

Reply

Jamie Harvey
21:30 Jun 23, 2021

Yea definitely!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Rohit Mukundan
10:12 Jun 23, 2021

What a delightfully bleak story.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
10:28 Jun 23, 2021

Tis the season for dystopia

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
10:29 Jun 23, 2021

Sequel posted 😎

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
16:27 Jun 21, 2021

This is a masterpiece. It made me think, it made me wonder, and it made me want a sequel (good thing there actually is a sequel!). The characters and their relationships were very intriguing. The father sacrifices two men to send his daughter out--and then she repays him by killing him with bread (that he shares with other people, to boot). This society is so warped, and I love it, possibly more than I should. I will be thinking about this story for a while.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
16:38 Jun 21, 2021

Welcome to the Upside Down World. It's 21st c. post-post modernism where satire is just stating facts. :) Thanks for the feedback. Maybe I'll write this into a longer work.....

Reply

16:44 Jun 21, 2021

You could turn the above comment into a welcome sign (if the Upside Down World still has welcome signs). Welcome to Pennsylvania - Pursue Your Happiness! Welcome to Utah - Life Elevated! Welcome to the Upside Down World - Where Satire is Just Stating Facts!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
16:53 Jun 21, 2021

Welcome to Florida - As Advertised

Reply

17:11 Jun 21, 2021

Welcome to Texas - Drive Friendly--The Texas Way Not that they still have cars/gasoline/electricity in this world... One of my favorites: Does Wyoming still exist as a state or territory? If so, is its motto still "cedant arma togae" or "let weapons yield to the toga"? :)

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:15 Jun 21, 2021

Virginia - Thus Always to Tyrants And shows a murder on the state flag https://www.britannica.com/topic/flag-of-Virginia

Reply

Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Rayhan Hidayat
21:32 Jun 19, 2021

There’s something about her being known only as “medicine girl” that I really, really like. She’s like an underdog superhero who kills stealthily, relying on her knowledge of poisons. And it’s horrific what the father was planning to do, but then again, it’s a dog eat dog world. I haven’t seen you tackle this genre before but I thought you did great!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:42 Jun 19, 2021

Thanks for the ego boost — quite a dystopian Jane Eyre. Florida might as well be a penal colony hahahahaha and the warlords are already here. Always fun to try out new genre 😜

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
03:04 Jun 20, 2021

I posted the sequel 🙃

Reply

Rayhan Hidayat
06:14 Jun 20, 2021

I’ll check it out in a bit!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Shoshana A
12:43 Jun 18, 2021

I really enjoy the story. My favorite line is "We are civilized as long as we are comfortable" - very thoughtful.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
14:05 Jun 18, 2021

Living in Louisiana/Florida for 25 years--without electricity on occasion (due to hurricanes)-- I can attest to that axiom's truth. People go crazy when they are hot/tired/hungry.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
19:50 Jun 17, 2021

This is a phenomenal story. You did a great job creating a setting that made you feel how desolate the landscape was and how desperate the characters are. The father's betrayal caught me completely off guard, which is something that doesn't happen often so very well done. This is one of those stories you read and want more. Here's hoping for a follow-up. :)

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:22 Jun 17, 2021

Thank you so much, Salvador :) I was hoping the prompts that drop tomorrow will allow for a sequel. Lots of three-eyed fish stories to tell in this dystopian world :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
16:09 Jun 17, 2021

ah, the bio, the bio- changing faster than the eye can see!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
16:13 Jun 17, 2021

What are we talking about? Bioluminescence? Biology?

Reply

18:24 Jun 17, 2021

none of the above, ohohoho~ i'll give you a hint- it starts and ends with 'the biography.'

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
H L Mc Quaid
09:54 Jun 17, 2021

I was totally immersed from the get-go. Fantastic world-building with minimal exposition, interesting characters, and great writing... like "Double rows of razor wire and anti-personnel landmines were planted as indiscriminately as dandelion seeds..." I'm guessing 'Neo' is Neosporin? I can imagine that in a world where modern medicine is buried in the past, a little yellow tube of Neo would become the ultimate panacea. Btw, I had the same response as Ash to the reveal that Medicine Girl suspected her father of dirty deeds...Maybe a littl...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:30 Jun 17, 2021

Zoikes! It's always the meddling kids foiling old people's evil plans (like voter suppression, insane gun bills, inhumane immigration policies, etc.) haha YES on the yellow tube of Neosporin. I stayed with a friend who's dog playfully (?) nipped me. I was like WHERE ARE THE ANTIBIOTICS. Thanks for dropping by. Looking forward to writing a sequel this week, assuming the prompts allow. :)

Reply

H L Mc Quaid
17:27 Jun 18, 2021

😂😂😂 Can't wait for the sequel..plenty of options with the prompts this week.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:41 Jun 18, 2021

Mwah ha ha

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Rayney Day
00:07 Jun 17, 2021

Loved this. Medicine Girl is such a likable character, and I love how she is always one step ahead of the game. Keep writing!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:24 Jun 17, 2021

I'm reading "Yellow Wife" by Sadeqa Johnson. Her protagonist is young and feisty, trying to survive with dignity during the actual Civil War. Plucky heroines rock!!

Reply

Rayney Day
00:30 Jun 18, 2021

Hell yes, they do! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
15:20 Jun 16, 2021

i, lady mengel (ahem, ahem) christen this story as fantastic, breathtaking, and beautifully plotted. the crown of reedsy belongs upon your head, dear one. ;) i also decree that the true heroes of this story are the sacrificial old men, and that their names have been discovered- jax and jillain, i hope you go someplace remotely like heaven. (yes, yes, nobody likes the mc's dying, but they got old, so-) *dramatically sashays out*

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
15:42 Jun 16, 2021

Kate Mengel -- I think I based the Medicine Girl on you. I need Jax & Jillian alive for a reunion show. Thanks for reading -- get to work on your novel, :)

Reply

16:35 Jun 16, 2021

a reunion show at the old folks' home... how would that turn out?

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:15 Jun 16, 2021

Boomers be crazy

Reply

17:16 Jun 16, 2021

xD-

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Kimber Harps
11:38 Jun 16, 2021

Great story! I really liked the medicine girl and I didn't expect the father at all.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
20:59 Jun 16, 2021

I wasn't planning on making the father evil, but he just suddenly revealed himself as an ___hole. I hope he ate a lot of that black cherry flatbread. But, it would be more fun in a sequel if he's bent on revenge.

Reply

Kimber Harps
21:09 Jun 16, 2021

That would make a great sequel! If you do make a sequel please share it with me. Your writing is amazing!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:20 Jun 16, 2021

Next week probably (if the prompts allow, but I'm good a finding some way to warp them to whatever I want to write :)

Reply

Kimber Harps
22:22 Jun 16, 2021

I can't wait to read it next week then! :)

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
18:52 Jun 20, 2021

The sequel is up :)

Reply

Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Beth Connor
01:55 Jun 16, 2021

As always, a great read. Your stories always make me think. 🤔

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:01 Jun 16, 2021

Think, schmink. I'm going for mindless summer entertainment here ... Excited about our audio project YAY US

Reply

Beth Connor
23:18 Jun 16, 2021

😂 I overthink everything anyway- plus I have a love hate relationship with Florida. I’m super pleased with how our project turned out!!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
23:37 Jun 16, 2021

"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." If you haven't checked out www.sumittable.com yet, it's a free clearinghouse that lists truckloads of writing (and other artistic) contests. The best part about it is that it tracks them for you, keeps a spreadsheet, etc. It also organizes the judges comments, etc. AMAZING and FREE. (My two favorite things!) A very successful writing friend of mine recommended it to me. My buddy (and great teaching colleague) --> https://www.alansincic.com/ (I'm all about FREE as not everyth...

Reply

Beth Connor
15:19 Jun 17, 2021

www.sumittable.com wants me to download a browser extension- I just want to verify this is the right sight before I click okay. Submittable.com looked close to what you were talking about, but not free. I'm just at the very beginning of feeling confident to attempt to submit things to more than just the safe Reedsy world lol!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
15:56 Jun 17, 2021

I'll email you screenshots.

Reply

Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Deidra Lovegren
23:38 Jun 16, 2021

And I live in Florida (for just one more year). It's getting worse and worse. And worse. Time to head back to Virginia!

Reply

Beth Connor
23:54 Jun 16, 2021

💖 I agree- English teachers should make all the money in the world! I am so inspired by all this stuff I get to check out! My mom is in Central Florida, and my name is on the title to her home. I may or may not take advantage of Theme Park resident perks. (Plus I like to befriend the gators and turtles..) Plus, the people-watching is entertaining.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
A.G. Scott
01:05 Jun 16, 2021

Read this on a road trip to Florida :(.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
01:32 Jun 16, 2021

So you understand now… 😎

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Aloe Plant
22:58 Jun 15, 2021

Really enjoyed this. You always manage to craft such incredible stories. The twist with the father was unexpected. I suppose familial bonds would only go so far in a future like that. Are you planning to write a sequel?

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
23:54 Jun 15, 2021

Thanks, Aloe! I think the Medicine Girl deserves a sequel, if not a name. How about Aloise? Haha

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Ruth Smith
21:00 Jun 15, 2021

Really good story, Deidra. I have a question about something I may have misunderstood. Why is there an electric fence that is still active if the electricity went out? You would think if there was power for the fence it would be diverted to something more important.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:01 Jun 15, 2021

Hahahahahhahhahahhahhah Good point. I'll fix it :)

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:04 Jun 15, 2021

All right. Thanks for the continuity check. (I would be embarrassed if it wasn't such a hilarious mistake...hahahaha)

Reply

Ruth Smith
23:48 Jun 16, 2021

I think it happens to all of us. I've written things, gotten interrupted in the process, then attributed the rest of the story to a different character than I started with. I even uploaded it, but caught the error the next day when rereading it. I understood what kind of world you were creating.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:27 Jun 17, 2021

Well, I appreciate your helping me to save face before I had to explain my idiotic plot point to the masses. I totally owe you one :)

Reply

Ruth Smith
03:16 Jun 18, 2021

No problem! Glad I could help.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Michael Martin
15:47 Jun 24, 2021

Obviously, the entire story was great. What I really liked, and what I want to try to incorporate in the future in my works, is how something as simple as the word "Kingdom" has so much connotation and additional meaning. When you said "Kingdom of Georgia", it immediately sparked the image of warring kingdoms, segregated and fenced off from each other along state lines. Obviously the setup before this part helped to set me up for that, but that word alone is what truly pushed this story from one where I'm imagining the United States as ge...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
16:49 Jun 24, 2021

I posted a sequel if you are interested 😎

Reply

Michael Martin
17:21 Jun 24, 2021

I'll have to check it out :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Ruth Porritt
06:32 Jul 07, 2021

Fabulous! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
John Del Rio
04:15 Jun 25, 2021

so well done. i read this first on the inaugural issue of the yet to be named magazine for a-story.org i am keen to hear more about the Medicine Girl and her travels.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Weldon Knight
15:54 Jun 24, 2021

Great Story! Very believable image of possible future.

Reply

Show 0 replies