This is an excerpt for a new series that will be associated with the Small Press Release. We’re interested in publishing 1,000 – 1,500 word excerpts of prose and 1 – 3 pieces of poetry from independent presses. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
An excerpt from TITLE 13 by Michael A. Ferro
Buy it here: IndieBound
The bus was rolling along through the afternoon sunlight when it came upon the outskirts of Gary, Indiana. The amber tint of a rusty fender could have been the city’s calling color. There seemed to be little that remained of the post-war industrial steel city. Gary had seen its fortunes rise and fall throughout the twentieth century at the south end of Lake Michigan. There were a number of factories and warehouses that from the highway appeared derelict and rundown, yet the smoke stacks that lined the tops of these buildings still belched some type of harsh gas into the air.
It was never the smoke that caught Heald’s eye, but the fire. Some of the stacks billowed out pure flame, burning off excess fumes, but to a passerby, it only made it seem all the more post-apocalyptic. The fires burned day and night—never ceasing to fill the sky above the factories. From the bus, it looked like the forgotten remnants of a ghost world.
If Heald had been from any other part of the country, he might have been surprised by the landscape in Gary. But throughout the Midwest, ghost towns had become commonplace, just as they had in the wild west over a century prior. The small communities often didn’t last long once the resources dried up or railroads left. These days in the heartland, when the resources went, an entire industrial landscape became a haunted arena. There were still plenty of people in Gary, but they were overshadowed by the sheer vacuum. On the highway, you could see cars with people in them alongside you, but looking off into Gary at those massive fire-spewing pillars, there was scarcely a sign of human life, not even a sound. It was not fair, but it was now, more or less, a wasteland—a decomposing reminder of the Midwest’s position in the Rust Belt, its flaming hopes monument to a ghost crew of laborers still tending to the aging machines and furnaces, waiting like birds on a wire, for something, anything, to happen.
When Heald was three years old, his grandmother took him to a local Michigan tribe’s powwow ceremony. He watched, blissfully unaware of the ritual’s symbolism or deeper meaning, entranced by the wild dancing and manic drum banging. His grandmother may have tried to explain some of it to him, but Heald couldn’t remember it now. What he did remember was that at some point, she leaned over and handed him a small wooden trinket. It was round and smooth, and as he held it close, he could see that it was painted like a turtle and had a number of holes in it. It was lightweight and hollow. His grandmother told him to bring it to his mouth and blow into it, and when he did, he felt the air escape through the holes as it made a whistling sound. While he was blowing, she put her finger over one of the holes and Heald heard the pitch of the sound change. Rather than explain what she was doing, his grandmother watched as he figured out the meaning of the holes in the turtle, exploring it now as an instrument. The turtle fascinated Heald, and she encouraged him to make as much noise as he wanted while the loud ceremony was taking place in front of them. Suddenly he felt like he was a part of the whole experience and not a mere spectator.
It was a memory that he would never lose, but for the life of him he could not understand why he recalled it now, on this long and cracked road through the heart of timeworn America. He was acutely aware then that he was closer to his future than he was with the memories of his past.
* * *
Coming from Detroit, Heald was no stranger to the ruin and decay in the Rust Belt. Though his family had relocated to the suburbs before he was born, the 1980s were a less-than-fruitful time for the Motor City. For an age, the tall and powerful buildings downtown were matched only by the equally tall and powerful Detroiters in the factories that had helped to mold, shape, and drive the backbone of industry and build the machines that put a halt to fascism, asserting the United States as the dominant economy in the world. But it was not meant to be, for it did not last. By the Reagan administration, when Heald was very young, most of the damage had already been done to the city, and residents were adjusting to their city’s new role as a home of despot criminals, forgotten legacies, and ruined promise. The pride of the city never left, but the residents began to assume the shapes of their once tall and powerful buildings: broken and falling into disrepair.
This was when the aging smokestacks atop the monumental factories began to shut off one by one. There were still plenty left running to keep the air over the city filled with that choking industrial aptitude, but you were never far from a hollowed-out factory, massive steel tubes on the roofs pointing up toward the sky with nothing left inside but dust and cobwebs. These giant pillars of concrete and metal now jutted high like extended index fingers from broken and casted hands, pointing toward something they would never touch.
Gary and Detroit had suffered similar fates, though Gary had the debatable advantage of being cast in Chicago’s mighty shadow. These days, a decade after the turn of the millennium, the Motor City had been pinpointed by media outlets and popular culture as one that had perhaps suffered long enough. But Detroit would need help to rise from what it presently was to what it could be. Tired of the so-called “ruin porn,” America tapped Motown as a land of renaissance—a place ready to be reborn, ready to rise from the ashes, as was foretold by the city’s longstanding motto: Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus (We Hope for Better Things; It Shall Rise from the Ashes)
Heald left the city with no prospects or hope of a new deal. The resurgence had begun recently and Heald had felt a stab of guilt ever since leaving, feeling that perhaps he had abandoned his hometown too early. What might have become of his life had he stayed and been witness to the consummate change? Would his world still be as it now was?
As Heald sat there on the bus ride back, he looked around at the riders holding computers on their laps and headphones over their ears, those lost in a paperback novel. He reached into his satchel and pulled out the bottle and took a casual pull from it as if he was merely taking a refreshing drink of water. He looked across the aisle toward the people sitting near him to see if they had noticed, but they hadn’t. Pushing the bottle back into his bag, Heald looked out the window at the industrial landscape that whirred by through the dirty glass.
Buy it here: IndieBound
About the Author
Born and bred in Detroit, Michael A. Ferro holds a degree in creative writing from Michigan State University. He has received an Honorable Mention from Glimmer Train for their New Writers Award and won the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award for Fiction in 2008. TITLE 13 is his debut novel. Michael’s fiction and essays have been featured in numerous online and print publications. Michael has lived, worked, and written throughout the Midwest; he currently resides in rural Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Additional information and writing can be found at: www.michaelaferro.com and @MichaelFerro