Any morning is a fine morning when I'm woken up by the warm sun on my face. I stretch my back and stand up to get dressed.
If the sun's high enough to shine through my skylight, it's way too late to get something to eat. I step out of my room into my family's main vardo. Our vardo is large, mainly because my grandmother was a hoarder. She kept everything she found, and when she died, my father scrapped everything and used it to build up our vardo. Now, its wheels have sunk into the ground and we can't move it.
I look to the kitchen and see a pan on the stove. There's still some grease in it, I'll have to see what else there is.
"Rigo!" I hear from outside. It's Father. He probably wants me to do something he won't. Father used to be a hard worker, as evidenced by our scrap vardo. Now, though, he usually sits outside drinking and smoking. He's still a very able man, he's just grown lazy. Not as many things need to be fixed now that our caravan has become a village.
We are-- were-- a Roma caravan. Gypsies. We stopped a year ago, North of Los Angeles, when we were rained in. The rain turned the dirt to mud and most of our vardos sank down to their axles. The few that didn't are the ones we use for transportation.
"Rigo!" Father calls again. I open the door and pull back our curtain to see him talking to our mystic. She's probably the one you think of when you hear the word "gypsy." She wears too much jewelry, reads tea leaves, and casts magic. She was talking to Father about a vision she had-- it boiled down to violence forcing us out. Father wanted me to go out and help her set up a sigil, which is essentially a magic fence.
Our mystic is a chihuahua dog. Her real name is Jennifer, but we call her Yenni. She comes from Mexico and joined our caravan a few years back. Her expertise in mysticism stems from her being a "wicken," and so far she hasn't been wrong with any of her prophecies and none of her spells have gone sour.
I go to Yenni's vardo and she hands me some yarn, a bunch of wooden stakes, and a pouch of gemstones and jewelry. We set off to the mouth of our ravine.
It isn't too long of a walk to the mouth, but it is far enough that you can't see or hear our village. It's comforting in a way; why go down this ravine if it looks totally empty? We reach the mouth and I start hammering stakes into the ground. Yenni is behind me laying out the gemstones and jewelry that she'll be using. I tie the yarn and Yenni lays the artifacts and seals her spell. On the way back, she gave me five dollars for the help.
I swear I could have smelled fire as we were heading back. I disregarded it, though, as sometimes people camp near us. So long as they don't throw their waste, we don't mind them.
I arrive back at the village and go over to the food wagon. It's one of the ones that moves, so the food there is usually fresh. The savory-sweet smell of chicken and peppers swiftly overpowers the smell of smoke, and I sit down for lunch.
The next few days pass with little disturbance, but something is amiss. The smell of smoke keeps getting stronger and Yenni is almost never home. While stargazing one night, I notice a cloud streaking all across the sky. The next morning I get out my telescope and notice the cloud is coming from the city. I jump through the skylight and go to turn on Grandma's radio. It's never worked and Father could never figure out why.
I open the back of it and out falls a coiled up wire. It needs electricity. No wonder Father couldn't figure it out, he doesn't know electricity. I know who does, and has an electric crank.
Llewellyn has the smallest vardo in the village. He wants to work in the city and bought a book on electricity a year ago. He's the only one who knows how to use electricity, so he's the only one that has it. I approach his vardo and knock on the door.
"Hello!" he calls after a second. I look around to see him poking his head out of his window. "You can't use the door right now, it's blocked."
"Might I borrow your crank?" I ask him.
"What do you need it for?"
"I'm trying to work my grandmother's radio."
Llewellyn ducks back into his vardo and, a few seconds later, produces his crank. A bulky, heavy iron cage with a handle jutting out of one side and three holes poked into the other. In the middle is what looks- and feels- like a stack of copper plates. I'm strong, but I can barely carry it to my vardo.
I drop the crank onto the table and put the wire from the radio into the holes. I start turning the crank and the radio crackles to life. It's just making a bunch of noises, though. There are three knobs on the front and a button. I press the button and it turns off. I turn the knob on the left, and it does nothing. I turn the knob on the top, and it gets louder. I turn the knob on the right, and I start faintly hearing voices. I turn it some more and the words become clearer. Eventually I can clearly hear what they're saying.
"...from the Pentagon, the National Guard is being dispatched to Los Angeles in response to the riots. In related news, rioters have taken to throwing mustard g..."
The radio faded out. I wind the crank again, but the people were talking about something else by the time the radio started back up.
Riots? Wait, National Guard? In Los Angeles? We're only an hour's walk from there. I have to tell everyone.
I'm not lifting that crank again. Llewellyn can wait. I nearly rip the door off its hinges and sprint for the village's message board. I frantically ring the bell until I see everyone coming out of their homes.
"Listen everyone!" I yell, "there are riots in Los Angeles, and they're sending soldiers! We need to pack everything we can, load it into a wagon, dig up your own vardo, whatever gets us closer to leaving!"
"How did you hear about this?" asks someone.
"I have a radio! They were talking about it on the radio!"
"You made that thing work?" Father asks, surprised.
"Yes, but that doesn't matter. We need to move as soon as possible! Away from the city!"
Everyone gives me a doubtful glare. Yenni comes up behind me.
"I know this to be true. I've looked at the city and seen fire, smoke of all different colors, and buildings falling down. The city's up to no good, and I have a hunch that we will soon be absorbed into it."
Nobody can deny Yenni. She's never been wrong. I guess until today.
Everyone goes back into their vardos and I storm off to mine. Father follows me in.
"How did you make the radio work?" he asked.
"Oh. Llewellyn gave me his hand crank. The radio is electric."
Father's face twists in confusion. I start turning the crank and the radio buzzes back on.
"...tizens are advised to evacuate the area. More at five."
Father's eyes widen in amazement. He'd never seen electricity do something like that. He'd only ever looked to Llewellyn's vardo and seen the light on, but to make a box speak--
"What time is it?" Father snaps. He pulls out his pocket watch and mumbles to himself.
After a minute of rambling to himself, he says, "bring the radio to the message board. If they hear it themselves they'll have to believe you."
"You carry the crank," I command.
I pick up the radio and place it in front of the message board. Father puts the crank down and I plug the radio in.
I start winding the crank and the radio croaks up.
"...sla Echo 2019 now only $39,999. Buy today."
It's a period of solid advertisements until 5:00 comes.
"National news tonight, riots in Los Angeles continue to rage, leaving much of downtown in ruins." I turn the knob to make it louder. "Authorities struggle to restrain the violent protest and demonstrators continue to rain molotov cocktails on local businesses and police. Non-protesters have started a mass exodus, seizing every highway in Southern California."
People started coming out of their vardos and listening to the broadcast.
"From President Trump this morning: 'Violence like this cannot be tolerated. If they want to keep this up, I'll treat them like I treat ISIS.' The Pentagon has confirmed the deployment of the National Guard, and they're expected to arrive at Los Angeles tomorrow morning."
A few people were worried now. I turned off the radio and started preaching again, "See? We need to leave! The city is too dangerous to live near anymore!"
People were now starting to take me up. Everyone who had a shovel went and got theirs, and started digging up their wheels. I went and did the same.
Nobody tired that night, even while they were digging. Whenever someone had unearthed their wheels, the whole village gathered to push their vardo out of the ground. Between our seven wagons, we unfortunately had only one truck. Vardos were carried off one by one as they were dug up. We decided to make a series of miniature camps, and sleep in shifts so a small team could carry on without us having to stop.
By morning, we come across a paved road. Like the radio said, cars were overflowing onto the grass. We followed the road, and I was in the truck when we were stopped at a military post. The soldiers looked confused as we approached. I rolled down my window to answer the soldiers' questions.
"Legal ID?" the soldier requested. I gave him my ID. "What is your name?"
"Rigo Vlaicu," I answered.
"Date of birth?"
"January 20, 2000."
He handed me back my ID and asked me to step out of the truck. I complied and he started inspecting the truck. Then, he and a small team started to inspect the outside of the vardo I was hauling. The door was locked, though, so they couldn't get in. I explained to them that I'm part of a Romani caravan and I still have to haul six more wagons. They wouldn't have it, and they broke the door down. Some time later, they came back out and believed that I was a Roma.
"What the hell kind of gypsy has a truck?" one of them remarks.
"How many wagons are waiting for you?" asks their leader.
"There are six more in the ravine down that way." I point back down the road.
I'm told to turn the truck off and follow them. They take me into their truck. It's huge, and it fits me and five soldiers in it. I guide them to the camp, and they round everyone up in one area. Everyone in the caravan is stirred up until I step out.
The soldiers search all of our vardos in about an hour. The leader spoke into his radio, "We got a band of gypsies here with six wagons. They're all clear, we're requesting an escort."
A couple of the soldiers mounted a vardo and we went back to the post. The rest of the day, we were hauling our vardos to the post. We spent the night there and continued on the road the next day.
We steered off the road after a couple near misses with cars. We went into the desert, and kept going directly East.
About a week later, I looked through my telescope and saw a compound of some sort. The next day we came across the front gate. There's a pit behind the gate with buildings in it, then there's a towering stone arch going through a wall on the other side.
We're stopped by a machine. It looks like a centaur, but more... feline. It has guns, so we stop the moment it sees us. Soon after, a german shepherd dog approaches us.
"State your business," she demands.
"We are Romanis from Los Angeles. We're trying to get somewhere safe."
"Gypsy refugees, huh?" the woman clearly has her doubts. Eventually I convince her that I'm not lying and she gives me some information.
"You're in San Antonio Rodriguez, well the outskirts of it. This place is a sanctuary; and it's lucky you found this place, because everything about your truck is saying it's been far from road-worthy for a few months. Not to mention Vegas is still 70 miles away. Come on in, we'll get you sorted."
I follow the woman across a bridge, under the stone arch, and into a building. Sitting behind the counter before us is some sort of leopard woman. She calls in her director: a dog man. The dog welcomes me loudly, and asks my business over a cup of water.
"I'm just passing by. I'm part of a caravan from Los Angeles-"
"LA? How bad is it there?"
"We were never in the city, we're nomadic and trying to find someplace safe."
"Well, you found the best place, mister..."
"Mister Rigo, you are in an incredibly safe place. We're surrounded by mountains in the middle of the desert. Nothing could possibly touch you. And if it does, we have some very effective defense. Feel free to stay for as long as you like."
"About that," I started, "our caravan is stopped and I don't think I can bring the rest of it here."
"Well, we have plenty of cars and stuff. How many are waiting?"
The dog thought for a second. He sent me back to the truck and soon led a convoy of cars to my caravan. Our caravan had gathered back into a village in about an hour, and the cars filed back into the sanctuary.
The caravan settles a mini-camp, and we decide it'd be in our best interest to take a break from traveling. The dog joins us, sitting on our vardos and listening to the radio, when...
"Reporters from CNN were able to get into the city, and said that the riots were evolving into a full-scale revolution. The unnamed leader of the revolutionary force had this to say: 'We cannot tolerate the tyranny of this nation anymore. To the fascists in Washington, watch your back.' President Trump has not yet commented on this."
"Is that them declaring war?" Llewellyn wondered, a shake in his voice.
The radio continued, "This declaration from Los Angeles has inspired protests in San Francisco. The protests in San Francisco are yet to become violent, but the governor has voiced his concern on the issue, stating: 'We should find a peaceful end to this, before it falls out of our control.' Authorities in San Francisco are trying to control the situation."
"San Francisco, that's just down the road from Sacramento," the dog piped up, "If they take over Sacramento, they'll have California in the palms of their hands."
"We need to get out of California," said our senior.
The dog interrupted him, "You're out of California. The border's right there." He pointed out toward the desert, "San Antonio Rodriguez is right on the border of California and Nevada."
"We need to get farther from California," our senior objected.
"We're in one of the most barren places in the United States, and have virtually no political presence. This is the best place you could be, because it's so insignificant that nobody cares about it."
Yenni cut them both off, "Let me decide. My dreams will tell me if it's better to stay." She disappeared into her vardo.
By then, everyone was too tired to keep listening to the radio. Everyone went into their vardos, and the dog went back to the town.
The next morning, Yenni woke everyone up. We all sat on our vardos and listened.
"I had no vision," she yelled.
"Well we can't wait until you have one!" our senior shouted.
"It's an omen," Yenni continued, "that nothing will happen here."
The general consensus was that we stay.
Yeah. It's uh, yeah. That's what exodus means. Mass evacuation.
Now San Antonio Rodriguez got a bunch a gypsies.