On Research for Unraveling

When I began writing Unraveling, it was a much different story compared to what it has now developed into. My early chapters and the notes for the project focused primarily on Jesse and Aaron. My vision was limited to exploring the dynamics in their lives that they were struggling with – respectively lost status stemming from familial/social causes and hedonistic nihilism that began following undesired repercussions of previous decisions. Put another way, the two main dynamics I wanted to explore were “what do you do when something occurs that’s completely outside of your control that you don’t want” and “what do you do when something happens that you don’t want but that was a result of your actions.” Because of this I conceived most of the other characters that I’d outlined merely as foils to their foibles on the path to achieve their goals – revenge over the person that had caused the loss of status and personal enlightenment.

A primary intention behind my writing, as I first conceived it, was to better understand my own personal development. Aaron and Jesse’s narratives contain a number of auto-biographical elements. As I continued to write out their stories and interactions, however, I came to realize that continuing with these limits not only made me miss out on developing some great characters but also caused me to exclude some of my own areas of expertise and interest. Since you’re supposed to write what you know about, I realized it was worth some time re-conceptualizing the project. Since doing that I’ve radically changed what I’d include in Unraveling.

As I decided to expand and explore the secondary character’s back stories I came to see how this not only made them richer persons in the book, but also added new depths to their interactions with Jesse and Aaron (and now others). Happy, for instance, was previously just a means for helping Jesse and Aaron get things that they needed. He became a business/social model for Jesse as well as a sage figure for Aaron. This transition from drug kingpen to force of benevolence in the community, think Stringer Bell/Damon Pope meets Huey Newton, required me to do more research as unlike Aaron and Jesse’s stories, which I knew well given they’re based on certain times in my life, I wasn’t as familiar with that type of psychological development. Put less delicately, I’m not black so I felt uncomfortable presuming that just through my imagination I’d be able to come up with a robust character for him and those around him.

To better write his character as well as those in his orbit, I decided to do research. Here’s what I came up with.

Autobiography of Assata Shakur
Angela Davis: An Autobiography
Black Against Empire
BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family
Revolutionary Suicide
Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson
The Spook Who Sat by the Door
Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why

Thankfully, I’ve now completed the above research I wanted to have done before really getting into Happy’s chapter and am now a few books away from completing the research I’ve already started for Ela. While this was a long delay on the project, I look forward to being able to be able to write Happy’s chapter with greater verisimilitude to similar historical characters!



Unpacking Happy's Chapter

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved gangsta movies. I’d set up fake Colombia House accounts in order to get free VHS tapes of films like Menace II Society, Boyz ‘n the Hood, New Jack City, Juice, Paid In Full, and Deep Cover and watch them over and over again.
Whereas Jesse’s chapter is stylized after Spanish picaresque and German Bildungsroman literature, Happy’s is based on these films as well as a number of original documents and documentaries. 1, 2, 3

Rather than merely replicate these narratives, however, I wanted to inverse a number of the tropes that are found in these gangster films/reality to depict a gang that is crypto-socialist, truly consensual work relations rather than that which is strictly primitive-capitalist and based on force.
Now presuming that you’re familiar with the above listed movies, so I don’t have to cite each, here are some of those narrative tropes that I mentioned/inverted.
1. The leader of a group got due to his ruthless violence or a chance encounter with a plug rather than his intellect.
2. The leader of the group stays in power based upon loyalty out of fear and not of love (unless relations are also familial).
3. The capture of power foreshadows similar machinations on the part of someone else within the organization that similarly wants to take over.
4. Wealth created from the criminal venture predominantly accumulates in the hands of those at the top.
5. This wealth created goes primarily towards the administrator’s consumption, which leads to organizational degeneration in some fashion.
6. Money spent is primarily upon luxury goods that are flaunted.
7. This leads to general envy/viewing the criminal enterprise as the best provider for income and entices those willing to do whatever to get it, but this makes community relations poor.
Making an analogy to larger institutions of political economy, as I would like my readers to so, I can say in short hand that the typically depicted criminal association is more akin to an absolute monarchy.
This passage shows Happy’s organization is significantly different and touches upon a number of the problems that will be delved into later in the chapter. Specifically what is the Project; the impact that the investigation into Officer Daniels illegal dealings; who the other person is that Happy is getting information from in the police department; their relationship to the Zoe Pounds; the possibility that some conflict might transpire should a power vacuum be created from several Zoe Pounds members finding themselves arraigned; who are these important people in Atlanta that requires Happy to have to meet them in person, etc.
I’ve still got a lot to write about for this chapter to near completion – but I hope this explanation of a portion of my project and the small section of the chapter convinces you that my serial novel project is worth getting into and you buy Book 1 of Unraveling!

The real brothers who inspired the Sucrarios in Unraveling

Fanjul Brothers
The Fanjul Brothers, Alfonso and Jose

Two of the antagonists in Unraveling are a pair of brothers whose last name is Sucrario. Sucrario is not a “real” Spanish last name or even a real Spanish word but a portmanteau term combining the Spanish word for sugar, “sucre” with the Spanish word for assassin “sicario”. While the characters and their history are fictional, they are largely based upon two real people: Alfonso and Jose “Pepe” Fanjul.

Documentation that the Gomez-Mena’s were the largest sugar owners in Cuba before the revolution

Despite Alonso Fanjul’s claim otherwise, his grandfather Jose Gomez-Mena was intimately involved with the functioning of the Batista government. He was Batista’s Minister of Agriculture, which in a country that had since it’s colonization been recognized as one giant sugar plantation is a big deal. He was also involved in banking and using capital to consolidate sugar holdings and upgrade their productive facilities. He was an important person and his friends and associates included a number of American politicians, important to keeping sugar tariffs low, as well as the former president of Cuba, Mario Menocal. Prior to this post and private sugar and banking enterprises the Gomez-Mena family were involved in the Cuban sugar trade at a time when the slave trade was legal. Even after it was officially abolished, the conditions of the Africans remained largely the same as it was before. To circumvent the ban of chattel slavery over 100,000 Chinese workers were imported. Though the white, landowning Cubans considered “the Celestials” less barbaric than the blacks, their work and living conditions were much the same.

The Fanjul family, which had long ties to Spainish nobility, escaped Cuba following the seizure of governmental authority by the Communist Party of Cuba headed by Fidel Castro. Castro even used one of the mansions built by Jose Gomez-Mena as his private residence and is even said to have met with him to point at a map of his holdings and tell him face to face that all of that land now belonged to the government’s collective farms. The mansion as well as his extensive private art collection remains intact and is now called the Museum of Decorative Arts and can be viewed by the public.

After arriving in the United States with all of the cash, capital goods and deeds that they could carry and ship without getting caught, the Gomez-Mena/Fanjul family were able to obtain a number of large farming subsidies with the help of the numerous American politicians whose favor they had curried over the year and were able to obtain large parcels of land for sugar production, and help halt the flow of Cuban sugar. Raising sugar cane in the Everglades was long a desire for many American farmers. Given the costs of land reclamation, dike projects, and other issues this was considered impossible without significant government assistance. While Florida and the Federal government wouldn’t seriously consider such a project prior to the Cuban Revolution due the huge amount of capital investment and political risk that it talked, after the revolution they did. Those that had cultivated the relationships with the right politicians – like the Fanjul’s had – were able to rapidly build back up their wealth.

According to the Land Report, the Fanjul brothers now collectively own 160,000 acres of land, or 250 square miles, in Florida and according to the New York Times they own 240,000 acres, or 275 square miles, in the Dominican Republic. Based on too many reports to cite here, they are not merely the farmers, land conservationists and philanthropists that they promote themselves as, but are sugar barons in the most original sense of the word. The co-existence of feudal labor relations within a mixed-capitalist economy isn’t itself surprising. What is perhaps more so is the wide reporting of it that doesn’t seem to gather any traction in the public imagination. Articles regularly point out how their meagre investments of, say, two million dollars, into the American political machinery will bring a return of sixty-five million dollars.

The Fanjul brothers are notoriously shy of the public spotlight, one of the reasons that I wanted to fictionalize them, yet still make it into the press occasionally. Most recently they’ve been receiving press over their actions taken to prevent action being taken on Florida’s 2014 Amendment 1, which passed with 78% of the vote. Their goal? Prevent the purchase of land that would be used to increase the quality of South Florida’s water supply. Their money not only buys the political machinery of south Florida but a number of estates in the Domincan Republic, Florida and a lavish lifestyle.

One of their playgrounds for the rich.
One of their playgrounds for the rich.



International Migration in Cuba: Accumulation, Imperial Designs, and Transnational Social Fields

The Castro Collection

2014 Land Report

Land Report on the Fanjuls

Everglades to be Killed this October

In the Kingdom of Big Sugar

Wikileaks: Fanjuls among ‘sugar barons’ who ‘muscled’ lawmakers to kill free trade deal

Miami's Economic and Racial Segregation in Unraveling

One of the themes within my book is race’s role in economic and political power. Each part of the series is a first person perspective with worldview that differs dramatically based upon their historical consciousness and the desires they wish to fulfill.

In Book 1, Jesses displays what I and other philosophers of race would call racial ignorance. What does this mean? Pulling from concepts explicated by Frantz Fanon’s in his book Black Skin, White Masks, we learn that whites often lack the experience of systematic prejudice and thus there is a knowing and unknowing of race. Whites can conceptualize race, but have only the experience of the privileged “norm” rather than the racialized Other and thus are unable (or unwilling) to perceive, understand, acknowledge, or relate to the general condition and experiences of non-whites.

Given the widely-touted multi-racial nature of Miami this seems to not fit with normal expectations. However the below maps and history are an attempt to give greater contextualization to how Jesse came to this worldview and also gives background to other characters perspectives on the role of race to their worldview.

Ethnic Map of Miami

Unfortunately this ethnic map of Miami doesn’t also show the history of legislation and settlement to the many cities and townships that make up Miami, Miami Beach and it’s surrounding areas. Including this sort of data we would begin to get a larger understanding of why the composition of the region is that way that it is.

Where people are living in overcrowded units.

As you can see here, in areas that are the poorest people are living in the densest arrangements. While there is little statistical breakdown by the City of Miami of what the percentages relate to in material conditions, from this data and that elsewhere we can see that two bedrooms apartments housing five or more people is normal. If this were the case we would find many of the circumstances described by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Case for Reparations. From the founding of the City of Miami and Miami Beach the patterns of habitations were guided by racial segregationist legislation that was enforced through a combination of policing and intermittent mob actions.

White politicians consistently sought to and successfully deprived black entrepreneurs from accumulating capital in white areas as well as their enterprises in black towns, rabidly fought unionization and collective bargaining campaigns and targeted social justice activists for harassment and assassination. While expanding along the beachfront to the east, whites captured formerly black areas through eminent domain and corrupt housing practices that pushed black west into higher density housing areas.

Miami’s Median Household Incomes.

This and the patterns of public transportation directly informed the type of labor available to black-American and Caribbean populations (and later Latin American groups) as well as their ability to demand political change, their ability to use  public goods and services as well as their housing options.

Justifications for an inflated police state and greater surveillance of the population at first stemmed from the second World War and the fear of destabilizing acts by foreigners. The work pass system, started in the 1930s, mandated that black and white workers in the tourist sector wear passes, for instance.

This theme would pop up again in various forms in order to legitimize greater oversight of black bodies and delegitimize political opposition to such acts by the government. Jim Crow, in a word, formed thoroughly enmeshed the patterns of habitation, political power and labor in the nascent Miami, which as late as 1953 was, according to Robe Carson, was a “Tropical Frontier” that had not yet been fully conquered by the white race. How so? Well even after 1943, when this threat was no longer credible, and into the 1960’s these passes served to reinforce an apartheid style urban geography.

Miami Beach Work Pass
Miami Beach Work Pass

Various counties created and enforced curfews to keep blacks out of white areas both through their police departments and white vigilantes. Later political upheavals were blamed by foreign agitators from northern Florida and New York to prevent the granting of political demands. The worldview promulgated by local papers was that local blacks were happy with their conditions and it was only because of outside influence that civic unrest occasionally erupted. Racism in the police forces in these and other areas continues to this day.

Where the Pockets of Poverty Are in Miami.

As the shows, the high rate of poverty in Miami communities of color was not caused by cultural character flaws but by a sustained and systematic assault by the local white and even Federal government policies towards maintaining segregation, preventing communities of color from having access to beachfront property on the larger scale keeping trade going with Caribbean dictatorships that were able to extract higher rates of surplus capital from their investments due to authoritarian practices.

The later success of Cuban communities is often cited as a reason as to why it is a cultural character flaw, however this belies the capital and advanced educational degrees that many first wave migrants were able to bring with, the federal assistance that they were given, the longer history of successful political mobilization they’d experienced and accrued as sociopolitical  capital as well as the notion of the first wave as “white people”.

Median Rents for Miami
Median Rents for Miami

Miamians continues to suffer as a result of it’s past. It’s continuously named as one of the worst places to live, it lacks a comprehensive plan to combat global climatic change due to the interests of land developers – the most powerful political lobby in Florida – it’s politicians and police are recurrently in the press for corruption and illegal acts and as anyone who’s familiar with it knows it’s vast area could be greatly reorganized for more rational and equitable land usage. This is all intimately tied to municipal government development and the influence of predominantly white capital on the areas political economy.

Jesse, however, isn’t aware of any of this. He hasn’t learned this data in his history class. His parents are, like many others living in South Florida, are not natives nor are they aware of it’s history so cannot pass this information along. The private high school he previously attended was predominantly white, as is par for South Florida Private Schools, so he’s not interacted with many black people until last year when he entered a public school. As a result of his growing recognition of the nature of political power and through the course of his increased interaction with black people, however, Jesse comes to have greater awareness of the racial environment of Miami and, in his later book, the surrounding regions. Jesse’s epistemological development is thus not aptly described by calling his views in the beginning racist but ignorant. Furthermore this is not an active ignorance that seeks to maintain privilege but one that seeks ruthlessness to understand and critique how power operates. At each step of his epistemological development Jesse comes to a state of greater empathy, understanding and recognizes a greater duty towards, to bring it back to Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.


A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida  by N. D. B. Connolly

Miami Beach police shared hundreds of racist and pornographic emails

Fort Lauderdale Cops Fired for Sharing Racist Text Messages and Videos

Old South, New South, or Down South?: Florida and the Modern Civil Rights Movement by Irvin D. S. Winsboro

Take Back the Land by Max Rameau

America’s Most Miserable Cities

100 YEARS: The Dark And Dirty History Of Miami Beach

On Choosing a Proper Cover for Unraveling: Book 1

I thought that coming up with a book cover for Unraveling would be easy, but it’s turned into a project. My first idea was to look for a stock photo that captured enough of the elements of one of the scenes in the chapter and then to slap some text over it with the title and my name. I searched through ShutterStock for a good several hours using terms that were appropriate for Jesse’s chapter. Teenagers. Drug Abuse. Gangs. Addiction. Recovery. Secrets. Espionage. Isolation. etc. The amount of images that I went through was, well, staggering. Finally, I alighted upon this image!

Stock photo chosen but, as of this posting, unused.

I liked it immediately and purchased it. My thought process in doing so was that though the image doesn’t depict Jesse Oberman, a bright and driven 16 year old boy trying to deal with a number of major changes in his life that he doesn’t fully understand or know how to deal with, the image is a pretty damn good physical approximation of Josselyn, a character that Jesse meets in Book 1. The items around her, the gun, mask and money, are also components of their relations so it seems appropriate. Lastly, who wouldn’t be intrigued enough into making a small purchase of a serial novel by a pretty woman with these items around them.

Cracked Font
Cracked Font

From here I then decided to use the Cracked font for the author attribution and title, then Age of Unraveling. I chose the Cracked font as a means of highlighting the social/political/economic disintegration prevalent within the plot. I’d previously chosen Unraveling as a title, again referring to the themes of the book, but had added Age of to it as a nod to British Historian Eric Hobsbawm. Whereas Hobsbawm wrote with insightful and compelling mastery about the upheavals over 202 years at a high level of abstraction, Unraveling is set over a two year period at a very low level of abstraction wherein characters deal with this historical inheritance. To make the name stand out I made the text black with a red drop shadow. Happy that the picture related if not to Jesse than at least a character he meets in Book 1 and confident that the text alluded to a breaking down of social order I shared this on my Facebook and asked for input.

The response that I got from my friends upon sharing my work was unanimous and disheartening. Time and money spent on that cover were, in their view, a waste. The image was “cheesy” and the text looked awful. Trusting of my friends input I decided to scrap it for a new one. I would not have to do so alone, however, as my brother Jaz said he would help me. He forwarded me a couple of test images, shown below, so that I could help guide him as to what I want.

One of the concept designs for the cover.
Another concept design for the cover










I like both of these a lot. Here’s why:

I like the one on the right as it shows a youth, presumably Jesse, in an out of focus manner, hinting at the internal conflict he is going through while interacting with an external world that he wants to mold to his will. The one on the right, however, I can’t use (or can I?) as it is the same stock photo used by the musician James Blake on his album James Blake.

A more appropriate textual rendition of the title.
A more appropriate textual rendition of the title.

I like the one on the left as it hints at the accelerating chaos from the unexpected confluence of a number of people/events. Because of this I feel that the lack of a human beings on it not to be so big an issue.

Given that one of the uncommented-upon-by-the-characters conflicts within the book is between Hegelian and Nietzschean conceptions of time, history, law and agency I find myself drawn to a typography that looks like this True Detective poster from season 1.

After I informed Jaz of the the right cover imaged was used by James Blake, he produced the one below as a well as another one with the title text more distorted which I prefer but don’t have a copy of. In this cover iteration we also decided to include a one line thematic description of Book 1: “His life is falling apart and he’s taking everyone with him.”

Like the text and the short description, but not the background image.
Another concept for the cover based on the above right one being used on James Blake’s self-titled album.

He also encouraged me to look over other covers at Designspiration, which is a great resource for ideation of covers. There were many that I liked there as well as on the website for Face Out Books. I was especially drawn to the aesthetics relying upon the placement of multiple covers as there will be several more books in the series. There were so many choices that I felt overwhelmed.

Lastly I decided to do a little digging onto cover ideas on my own. I’m not extensively well read when it comes to pulp/noir novels, but as I’ve always found myself intrigued by the aesthetics of pulp covers and as it was in part a response to my enjoyment of reading the major works of novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler which made me include elements of classic noir fiction (though with a much more progressive worldview) into Unraveling – I also decided to look through Pulp Curry.  Some of the pulp covers that I liked are below, though given the number of modern stylistic and narrative elements in it as well as the expenses in producing these original drawings this seems to be a dead end.

Book cover of a book of book covers. How meta!
Not sure if this was a book cover, but I like the image.
Male gaze in full effect here and in every other pulp novel.
Irony: In Unraveling the women trap the men.


















I think that the pulp covers would work for some of the female characters books, but not for Jesse. I think it’d be double interesting as most of the females break from being the typical passive object that they are in these types of works and are heroes fighting a toxic form of masculinity and making up for the failings of their male comrades. I don’t want to go to much into this so that you’ll want to see what I mean by reading subsequent books, but did want to point out the irony that would occur if such a détournement was ever made.

All this said, as of now I’ve decided on the following post. I like the oldness of the map – which relates to the repetition of patterns in this area of the world. I’d like to change the font to something more stylized – but I plan on doing this after the publication of the third part of the book as then I plan on getting physical copies published and making them available for sale.


Beginning of Chapter Quotes from Unraveling: Book 1

Below are the chapter titles and quotes that introduce them in Unraveling: Book 1. I chose them to reflect developments in Jesse’s character and also as they provide deeper context for the circumstances that he faces or other people that he becomes involved with. I also find that the quotes, which touch upon large social, political and economic trends, present a compelling contrast to the plot of the first book of Unraveling. Jesse’s story does deal with existential issues, but is more like the No Exit of Al-Sadiiq Banks than the No Exit of Jean-Paul Sartre.


“…All human life, from the very beginning of its development within capitalist society, has undergone an impoverishment. More than this, capitalist society is death organized with all the appearances of life. Here it is not a question of death as the extinction of life, but death-in-life, death with all the substance and power of life. The human being is dead and is no more than a ritual of capital. Young people still have the strength to refuse this death; they are able to rebel against domestication. They demand to live. But to those great numbers of smugly complacent people, who live on empty dreams and fantasies, this demand, this passionate need just seems irrational, or, at best, a paradise which is by definition inaccessible.”

– Jacques Camatte

Primitive Accumulation

“One capitalist always kills many.”

– Karl Marx


“Young people everywhere have been allowed to choose between love and a garbage disposal unit. Everywhere they have chosen the garbage disposal unit. A totally different spiritual attitude has become essential – and it can only be brought into being by making our unconscious desires conscious and by creating entirely new ones.”

– Guy Debord


“During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war is of every man against every man… Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues.”

– Thomas Hobbes


“Citizens with a conscience are not going to ignore wrong-doing simply because they’ll be destroyed for it: the conscience forbids it.”

– Edward Snowden

Transportation, Distribution and Logistics

“What kind of society isn’t structured on greed? The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm; capitalism is that kind of system.”

– Milton Friedman


“He who does not know how to deceive does not know how to rule.”

-Rafael Trujillo


“What do I care about the law. Ain’t I got the power?”

– Cornelius Vanderbilt


“True capitalists reinvest their surplus into the community. They don’t have to be coerced through increased taxation.”

-Adam Smith

Chapter Excerpt: Jesse and the Boar

The following is an excerpt from the novel I’m now working on. Jesse, one of the three protagonists, has been sent to spend the summer in the Everglades on an Outward Bound style program following his mom’s discovery of drugs in his room.

Jesse and the Boar

By the fourth day of chopping down the Australian pines, we’d stacked up forty trees. Miranda agreed with me that rather than splitting them into smaller pieces it’d be better to pull them along the shore and burn them there. After she gave us another speech on responsibility and endurance under pressure she sent us out to work. After half an hour I was already tired. Today no wind stirred the trees of the Glades and my back muscles were sore as fuck. Still, I knew if I pushed myself I could down three more. I rested for a moment and through the long, dark brown roots veining down from the branches of the Cypress I saw some saw grass move. A four foot long black boar first stuck its head out then came all the way out followed by four black and white speckled piglets. I touched my alert whistle with my left hand but feeling the weight of the axe in the right slowly put it back down. I put the axe in between my belt and pants and climbed up the tree branches, making sure that the wood didn’t hit the wood and scare the animal off. On the first level of branches, I took the axe from my pants and held it in my right hand. I could see someone chopping maybe a hundred feet away, but didn’t care who it was. Ants crawled over my hands as I made my way closer to the boar. No response. Dragonflies flew across my face and a bluebottles twice landed on my arm. They do not exist, I told myself. Right then I was a panther, moving so quietly and breathing slow so as to not give away my position. I was a predator getting ready to take my prey. As I slowly breathed in for a count of eight, I imagined myself dropping down from the branch and swinging the axe. I visualized how I would land, the best angle from which to swing, the feel of the impact, what to do in case it moved and I missed. On my second inhalation I pushed myself off the branch and landed on the ground with my knees slightly bent. The axe was already raised, I held my core in strong and mobilized every muscle from foot to hand to make the axe swing down with full force. It broke through the epidermis, scraping some of spinal column between skull and body before separating the dorsal column, the pyramidal and extrapyrimidal tracts and the tracts of the anterolateral and spinocerebellar system. It lay on its side, twitching.

I placed my foot on the pig’s fat, hairy stomach to pull the axe out. As I did this the piglets fled into the nearby grasses. After the axe was out, it’s legs continued to shake while blood and a white spume slowly spurted and bubbled out of the spinal wound. I stepped over the pig, lifted up the axe again and this time swung came down on its throat. It stopped moving after that. When I pulled out the axe a spurt of blood shot up onto my face, shorts and shirt. Looking down at the mess all over me, I smiled. There was a powerful energy running through me. I wished I had a knife to cut off a piece now and eat it before anyone came. Instead I reached down to the cut, cupped my hand and let it’s blood fill it. This is what natives would have done. Not divided up this beautiful animal that was wholly edible into some… thing that was only partly acceptable. It tasted bad. It’s just not a taste to which you are accustomed. Yes, yes, that’s it, I said to myself drank some more then flicked the blood off my hand, wiped my face then took the whistle from around my neck and blew as loud as I could and yelled out “Boar! Boar!”

I heard another whistle, then Gregg called out from the west “I just saw the little babies too!”

I yelled back, “I’m not whistling over the babies, but their Momma. Get Miranda over here!” I blew my whistle again.

“Help me get this on my back so we can take it back to camp.” I said.

“But you’re going to get bloodier.”

“So what. Get the back legs and help me heave it onto my shoulder.”

“We can both just carry it.”

“It’s not that heavy, it’s just big. Besides, I killed it, I want to bring it to camp.”

“We should just wait for Miranda.” Greg said in a fey voice.

“Dude, stop being a little bitch and just help me with this already.”

“It smells.”

“Jesus fucking Christ! How difficult are you going to make this?”


After grabbing the legs, we swung the pig onto my back on the count of three. The pig did stink, bad, and my shirt was getting even more soaked through with blood. But I didn’t care about that or that my shoulder felt like it might buckle from the animal’s weight. This was my victory. Gregg picked up my axe as we walked to camp. Brian came to where they a few moments later, then blew his whistle calling out “boar!” Miranda was there a few moments later, gun in hand, and was taken aback by the sight of me with a shit-eating grin, covered in blood, carrying the hundred twenty pound animal on my right shoulder. She looked stunned. For a second I felt that I was about to get chewed out for having risked getting hurt but instead Miranda grinned ear to ear and said with a clear pride.

“Way to go, buccaneer, congratulations on a Clean Living first!”

“Buccaneer?” I asked.

“Well, depending on who you ask, buccaneers got their name either from the buccan, the type of wood grill the Arawak used to cook animals on or they got their name from the pigs, bacon, that they’d hunt on the islands then cure in salt before going out and attacking Spanish merchant vessels. Either way we’re going to cook up that bacon on a buccan and you, Bucco, got yourself got a new nickname!”

“What’s going to happen to the piglets?” Gregg asked.

“They’re pretty resilient, but in the end they’ll live or die according to their ability to survive.” Miranda responded.

After everyone had returned to camp, Miranda called Philip on the walkie-talkie. As she relayed where they were, everyone stood around the dead pig listening to me recount how I had killed it. When I was done, she tasked everyone. Gregg was to gather ingredients wild garlic. David and Mike were to cut up extra firewood and split planks to hold the pig a few feet above the fire. Brian was to clear some area around the campsite so that it could accommodate more tents. Miranda gave Aaron her Bowie knife and told me how to clean the pig. After we’d finished instructing him, she said to me:

“Alright, now you need to wash that blood off you. I’ll grab a change of clothes and a towel from your tent then go with you to the water, gun in hand, in case any alligators in the water scent the blood on you.”

I was somewhat reluctant to wash off the once steaming hot blood that had now cooled, dried and was cracking on my skin from each minor muscle movement I made. I wanted those in the other group now on their way to see it. Nevertheless I followed her orders. Flies were already starting to make me their favorite. She grabbed some clothes from my bag in my tent and my towel. We walked three minutes to where the kayaks were tied up. I went in and stripped nude under the water. As I twisted my clothes the blood left the absorbent cotton and swirled in the surrounding water. Looking askance at the reflective surface of water, I could see Miranda eyeing the surrounding waters. But not me. Lacking chemicals to leech it all out, the clothes remained slightly discolored every time I’d pull them out of the water to check if they were clean. I didn’t mind. If the blood stains came out too quickly then perhaps the memories of this experience might suddenly leave as well. Though each of my movements twisting the clothes was efficient and steady, I felt almost drunk in the motions. Pride at a task accomplished? Yes, that was it. I looked out into the water, then back to Miranda. Her eyes were still on alert. She informed me that though no alligators were on the horizon of the water I should still hurry up. No need to tempt fate.

“OK, I’m done.” Jesse said.

Miranda, who hadn’t looked at me up until this moment, faced me as I emerged from the water with small beads dripping down my body. My wet clothing in one hand covered my nudity. I caught the towel Miranda threw and wrapped it around myself. I noticed, however, that Miranda eyes betrayed something more than concern for gators at the moment. There was attraction in them. Now if I could just be seduction like I was a predator before, I might be able to bag two different types of prey in under an hour. While walking towards her I purposefully overstepped my gait. The fold holding the towel around my waist came undone and fell to the floor. Miranda looked at me, blushed and then turned her eyes away.

“Put your towel back on.”

“Don’t you like me?”

“You’re too young for me.”

“You’re twenty-three, I’m almost seventeen. It’s legal.” I said as I lifted the towel with my right foot, grabbed it with my hand and placed it over my left shoulder.

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.” Miranda, eyes still away from my body, responded.

“You’ve been telling us to always answer the questions you ask not the questions we want to hear. Abide by your own rules and answer me – Do you like me?”

She said nothing for a few moments before affirming that it was true and then continuing quickly, “Yes but it doesn’t matter. Just because my body tells me something doesn’t mean my behavior has to agree. Remember our discussions on character? Now put the towel back on and go change behind that tree.”

“Yes… I remember what you said about character.” I said slowly as I slowly approached her, savoring the reversed role of power and in no hurry to let it pass away. “But I also remember that it is in the nature of character to change when faced with new circumstances. People must adapt to their circumstance. Right?”

At this she looked me in the eyes, utterly defiant. “I may have a bit of a crush on you, but if you think I’m going to fuck you right now then you’re not as smart as I thought.”

To avoid shifting my gaze from her face to the two projections now visible on her shirt, I stared directly back at her then responded, “I didn’t think you would. Nor do I want you to fuck me. Right now. The first time we’d fuck would be wild, but I wouldn’t want it to be in this wilderness, where we have to worry about prying eyes or ears.”

“Then what is all this for?”

“I just want a kiss for a job well done. After I have that, I’ll put my towel on and then go put my clothes on.”

“I kiss you, you tell someone, I get fired.”

“It’s bad etiquette to go around telling people our private business unless we both agreed to do so. Besides, I’m troubled, all you’d have to do is deny it and no one would believe me.”

She was silent for a moment then pulled in close enough for me to give her a kiss. As our lips were locked, I cupped her ass and pulled her pelvis to my naked body. It was so nice, firm and yet tender. Unlike the cold and hard something on my ribcage. I broke away and looked down. The revolver.

“Whoa there, Bucco. That’s enough. Keep you word and get dressed.”

I turned my back to her and while putting the dry clothes licked my lips, tasting the faint remainder of her saliva, and imagining that the faint pulse of her heart I’d felt though her lips echoed in mine. I couldn’t hold back a smile on the corner of my mouth. If nothing happens now, the seeds of desire have been planted. Her resistance may be as hard as concrete, but over time it’d crack and the water and tendrils that emerge from the seed itself would help make its way into the small imperfections that define everything that is human made and it would root into it. The root would slowly work its way through the concrete and bitumen, expanding the cracks it as it tapped down and shot up with a strong trunk that would it split apart. When we came back to camp, everyone was still buzzing with activity. I sat on a log and watched everyone work. Brian, who’d just finished clearing the area, sat down next to me. Still within earshot of Miranda, he whispered to me.

“Way to kill that boar, now we can meet those two girls from the other group!”

“Yeah. So?”

“So?!” Brian said with eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, so? It’s not like we have a chance to fuck them out here. Hey, girl I just met, step into my tent and let’s get dirtier than we already are!”

“That’s not “positive thinking,” now is it?

“Hah. No, I guess not.”

“And did you think you were going to kill a boar a few minutes before you did?”

“No, but that’s different.”

“Brian, Bucco, stop slacking. Come over here and I’ll show you how to make a buccan.” The two of us watched and helped when we could. Half an hour after the fire was started Philip and his group showed up. The kids set up their tents while Philip checked in with Miranda. He asked who killed it.

“I did.” I said.

“Good job, Jesse.” Philip said with a clearly forced smile and fake enthusiasm.

The groups shook hands and introduced themselves for the first time. Philip stated that the same rules that each group had still applied. Brian, Gregg and Mike tried talking to the girls every chance they could get. I was embarrassed for them. I was even a little bit shy when they congratulated me for killing the boar. My aloofness allowed me to keep Miranda in the periphery of my vision. The fire pit sizzled as drops of fat fell down. The aroma of it and the other foodstuffs the two girls from the other camp were attending to was simply divine. Before everyone ate Miranda said a prayer of thanks to the boar for giving it’s life to feed them, adding at the end “and thanks to Jesse for bringing us all together for this delicious meal”. I blushed.

After we ate Philip started to tell a story similar to the ones Miranda had been telling around their campfire for the past three weeks. This time it was about the rituals of the Tequesta that had once lived near the area they were now sleeping. They had hunted white tail deer there for hundreds of years. Part of their customary rites were an annual feast known as the Green Corn feast. At this time the young Indians that had hunted and killed their first animals on their own would be initiated into adulthood. Following this, all of the adult customs would now apply to them. Philip said that even though I was the only one that had killed an animal, the same held true for everyone there. Everyone had been doing something special by merit of our completing the Clean Living program and that their ceremony in a week would be that time for everyone to accept being an adult. Hearing my specialness be diminished, I couldn’t help but interrupted Philip as he started to list skills we’d learned here that could be used once outside of the wild.

“But I’m the only one that killed an animal…”

“We know that, but you weren’t able to enjoy it as much without everyone here, whether they were helping or just being present to recognize your accomplishment.”

He was right, but that wasn’t the point, and I was still pissed and decided to test what I felt to be Philip’s weakness, “Have you ever killed an animal out here?”

“No, I haven’t.” With a tone and face that implied he was somehow better for not having done it.

“So what you’re saying is that out of this group here, I’m the only one the natives would consider an adult?” I shot back.

“No, Jesse. I’ve hunted out here too.” Miranda said with a glare demanding I drop it. I could almost hear her voice inside my head saying, I can put up with some of your shit but don’t be a dick to my boss.

Enjoying what I’d gotten so far from pushing boundaries, I couldn’t help but respond “True, but you’re a woman so you wouldn’t be sitting with the chiefs as they talk business.”

“Ran.” Philip said, putting his hand up to stop what was coming out of Miranda’s teeth-bared mouth. “I got this.”

“Ha! I was just talking shit to make a point but look at you, doing with your actions the thing I was just ridiculing!”

Philip said “I don’t believe that women should be subservient to men, Jesse. However you did interrupt me, and are starting conflict with me. Rather than someone else coming into our conflict, I’m limiting its spread in the hope the two of us can come to a peaceful understanding and we can continue to have a pleasant night after having enjoyed eating the boar you bagged. Towards that end allow me to ask you to clarify something, what was your point in interrupting me?”

“Just pointing out that no one here passed any tests to be considered an adult. After this “training” we can’t legally buy beer or vote. We get caught with drugs, we still go to juvie, not jail. We may have new skills, but we’ll still considered minors until the earth circles the sun a certain number of times. I get this metaphoric reality where our time out here and ceremonies mean we’re adults now. OOoOoOooOhhhh. But AT THE SAME TIME we’re still not. Shit, I think about it now and even after we’re adults we’re still children in the eyes of the law. And really, you can talk about making some “peaceful understanding” all you want, but I haven’t forgotten that the only reason I’m here is because, one, you had two huge dudes with you that were going to tackle and hogtie my ass if I tried to escape and, two, when I did escape your “understanding” you got a pig to zap me with a tazer so you can get me out in the middle of nowhere.”

“You are here, we’re all here” he said breaking eye contact with me, “because you or your parents recognized that your behavior wasn’t productive to your being the best possible you you could be. You’re here because learning some self-awareness, communication, and leadership skills that will strengthen your self-image.”

“I get that what I’m learning out here is good, but stop talking like you know me. You’re a stranger to me. My parents may have sent me here and given you some written down information, but they don’t know me either. They’re so busy with their own lives they’re practically fucking strangers too.”

“You know, that’s the fourth time you’ve cursed.”

“So fucking what? You going to write me up for my potty mouth> Please, do. It’d be nice to have something besides leaves for toilet paper.”

Philip’s eyes scanned those around the circle to gauge their reactions to the others. I’d been checking them in my periphery the whole time so mine didn’t move off Philip.

“You’re right, bad words only have bad meaning if we allow agree that they should and you’re just expressing strong feelings. You’re also right about my not having met you until three weeks ago. But I do know you. I know from having seen your school records. Last year, your first year of high school, you were sent to internal suspension for forty-six days for things such as insubordination and classroom disruption and that you skipped going to school nine times. Jesse for almost a third of the school year you were deemed to be such a problem that they had to segregate you from your classmates…”


“Let me continue…”

“No. Because this is the thing that you and my teacher and my parents don’t get. I’m not the problem, the school is. Did you ever think that I purposefully act that way so I can get sent there because I can do the classwork on my own in less time than it takes for my teachers to go through every little thing the dumb kids don’t get? Does it say in those records that with all my free time I read things that actually interest me rather than just stare at the walls like the real problem kids in there? Does it say that despite all the time I am in IS or absent my grades are near the top of the class?”

“I knew about your grades, but not your intentions behind your actions. And honestly, I’m glad you feel secure enough out here to open yourself up about this. Have you already shared this with Miranda?” He looked over and saw Ran shaking her head to affirm he did. “If you told your parents or people at the school about this before and weren’t listened to, I’m sorry. Just know that we’re here to help you and that though it may be difficult to sometimes accept rules, we still need to follow them.”

“Or we get kidnapped, tazed and sent for a month to a re-education camp.”

“Actions have consequences that we don’t always expect, but we must accept them.”

“Let me then now ask you to clarify something. According to what you said, if, after I get back to Miami I searched for where you live and waited for you with a couple of my friends and forced you into a car and left you in the middle of nowhere, you’d just accept that.”

“That’s a threat!” Philip said.

Pussies get pounded, I thought, and smiled slyly and started tapping him out with my tongue. “I’m not threatening you, Phil. I’m using a rhetorical device called an “analogy” to make a point. I’m pointing out, again, the absurdity of your generalizations about accepting things the way they are. You want me to accept consequences, but what you’re really saying is you want me to be this person that’s not me that you want to be. It’s just like when you say that “We’re all adults now” when a whole other set of rules apply to us. God, were you always such a dick or did you just decide to become one when you realized it wasn’t normal to have one the size of a thumb.”

At this last line all the guys chuckled and the two girls smirked. Miranda gave me an angry stare. Maybe if I managed to push his buttons enough she’ll take me aside for a one on one and I can press my luck for a fuck. She’s pissed but just like every other chick likes bad boys.

“A small dick joke, does that really helps anything Jesse?”

“If that’s the one thing you heard from everything I just said, you’re the one who needs to develop better attention and communication skills.”

Philip was in the middle of spitting out a response when a crack of lightning branched out countless white fingers across the purplish haze of the evening sky. The illumination of the sky revealed that the approaching clouds were not just dark from the setting sun but were instead heavy with the lifeblood of earth. I, like everyone, internally counted the moments before the thunder roared. Three seconds passed before the tremor of air was audible. I unhitched my tweaked eyes from Philip’s face and for the first time noticed everyone staring at me. For the first time, I noticed Joann was smiling. I understood then why she normally didn’t, she looked, well, sinister.

“We’ll finish this later,” Philip said. “Let’s do a quick clean up just in case the storm passes by here.”

Two minutes later, sure enough, the previously comforting wind became more vigorous. It flowed through the nearby plants. Another crackle crossed the sky and a dense veil of rain started to fall. Philip yelled out not to worry about the fire and that since it was already dark to consider it bed time. The rainfall on the tents and plants around them made a diverse array of sounds. Feeling jacked up from the confrontation, I lay back and listened to the sounds of the storm and tried to find some kind of rhythm to calm me. Nothing. Instead, I thought about Miranda. If she’d pulled me aside to yell at me back there something probably would have happened. Pressing my lips together and licking them I recalled our brief kiss. My hand on her ass. The gun to my stomach. The risk of getting caught. Fuc-king-hot. I was starting to convince myself to break my vow not to pleasure myself while out in the Glades when I faintly heard the sound of the tent’s zipper opening up. Miranda! Is it really this easy to make awesome things like this happen? I smiled. Miranda, already at the front of my thoughts, was about to leave the back of my throat when I recognized by the hair length it wasn’t her. It was Joann.