Home > Santa Olivia (Santa Olivia #1)

Santa Olivia (Santa Olivia #1)
Jacqueline Carey


They said that the statue of Our Lady of the Sorrows wept tears of blood the day the sickness came to Santa Olivia. The people said that God had turned his face away from humankind. They said that saints remember what God forgets about human suffering.

Of course they said that in a lot of places during those years.

For a long time, there was dying. Dying and f**king. A lot of dying and a lot of f**king, and more dying.

There were rumors about El Segundo’s forces staging raids across the wall; Santa Anna el Segundo, the rebel Mexican general. If it was true, they were never seen anywhere near Santa Olivia. But why would they be? There wasn’t a hospital there. After the second wave of sickness, there wasn’t even a proper doctor.

But it must have been true because the soldiers came.

The day the soldiers arrived, Our Lady’s tears dried to rust in her shrine. There were bullhorns and announcements about a wall, a new wall to the north to bracket the wall to the south. A cordon to contain El Segundo’s attempted incursions. People could stay or go. Elsewhere in the cordon it was different, with wholesale evacuation and reparation, but there was no help for those who wanted to leave Santa Olivia.

Some went.

Most stayed. They stayed because they were sick and dying, or because they were orphaned and confused. They stayed because it was home and they had nowhere else to go and the sickness was everywhere. They stayed because the soldiers didn’t really want all of them to go, because the soldiers didn’t want to be all alone in the hot, arid cordon between two countries.

But it wasn’t home anymore, not exactly.

After the reservoir had been secured and the golf course seized for recreational purposes, after the bulldozers and the backhoes had chewed and leveled the terrain, after the cement trucks had poured foundations and the cinder-block walls had begun to climb, the soldiers explained. There was a meeting in the town square. It took place in the evening. There were generators to fuel the arc lights, because the power grid had been down for a long time in that part of Texas. General Argyle was there, a middle-aged man with a face like a knotted fist. His spokesman explained, bawling through a bullhorn.

“We are at war!

“This is no longer a part of Texas, no longer a part of the United States of America! You are in the buffer zone! You are no longer American citizens! By consenting to remain, you have agreed to this! The town of Santa Olivia no longer exists! You are denizens of Outpost No. 12!”

No one knew what it meant, not exactly. There was something about sickness and something about the scourge to the south on the far side of the old wall. But there was too much dying to be bothered. If the soldiers brought money and food and medicine and doctors who hadn’t succumbed to the plague, that was to the good. It had always been an isolated place.

Santa Olivia; Santa Olvidada, soon to be forgotten by most of the world.

Outpost No. 12.

What Carmen Garron remembered most about that night was the humming generators and the light. She was thirteen years old, and for the past six years of her life, there had been precious little of it after nightfall. Generators were scarce, fuel to be hoarded for important matters like refrigeration. Now, here! Light, white-hot and spilled with reckless abandon, throwing stark shadows. It highlighted the general’s clenched face with its incipient lines. It teased out the lurking sickness in her aunt’s and uncle’s faces, in the faces of their neighbors. It lit up her cousin Inez’s nubile features, and her own.

And the soldiers… the American soldiers looked so strong and hale.

Carmen Garron liked soldiers.

After the barracks and the other buildings were finished, there were more soldiers. They didn’t want to be bothered with the town’s troubles, so arrangements were made. With the army’s blessing, Dan Garza declared himself in charge and his men took care of security. They swaggered through the dusty streets, deferring to no one who wasn’t in uniform. They weren’t allowed to carry guns—no one in Outpost except soldiers were—but they carried lengths of metal pipe and weren’t afraid to crack heads if they felt like it. People muttered, but what could you do? As long as they kept the peace, the general didn’t care.

Old Hector Salamanca, who owned a good chunk of real estate in town, made arrangements, too. He was a shrewd old f**ker, too scrawny and stubborn for the plague to take. His arrangements were made with the chief warrant officer and involved liquor and food and generators and kerosene. His businesses thrived. Bodegas turned to bars and brothels, and people could buy what they needed in his shops. As long as it kept the peace and kept the soldiers happy, the general didn’t care.

Sister Martha Stearns and Father Ramon Perez also made arrangements. She was a diminutive blond woman with an intense gaze and a sense of purpose that owed nothing to divine calling; despite her nun’s garb, she was in fact an orphan of the church and had never taken vows. Handsome Father Ramon, who was himself only a novice despite his priest’s collar, knew this. They kept each other’s secrets. It wasn’t their fault. Father Gabriel, the last real priest in Santa Olivia, had caught the plague and hung himself from the bell tower before it could take him.

“Go forth, fornicators!” he had shouted before he plunged, perched on the narrow walkway, the noose around his neck. “Go forth while you may; go forth and seize the day! Fuck your mothers, your brothers, your sisters and fathers; f**k in the streets like dogs, you sodomites and whores! Why not? Death rules all! God has turned his face away!”

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