fiction project: characters: the warrior

2 Sep

there are uncountable ways that a character makes itself known. for this story, music has been a favorite.

this is evie’s song: ‘warrior’ by the yeah yeah yeahs. evie’s probably the closest match to me personally in that she is about my age, she is not very excited by her day job, she has insomnia, and is only slightly more aimless about her future than i am. her approach to managing her insomnia is much more fun than mine, though. here’s an evie sketch. let me know what you think…


Evie’s glorious drunk when she starts driving east. On the dashboard is the letter, beerbottle ring stained on the thick paper, that’s sent her out this way. It says that her mother Clare is dead and Evie’s been made the executor of her will.

It’s nothing she wanted to hear but she’s grateful to be on the road. Growing up, she’d always imagined making just this kind of escape under night skies with flat, blank miles unspooling ahead. If this is finally the reason that gets her out, so be it.

Even so. Clare had left when Evie was five, never a sign then or since that Clare’d regretted the decision. To hear from her now—well, about her—it feels like manipulation, a way to force a relationship once the risk of having one has passed. If she thinks about it, the whole situation carries an overwhelming sense of destiny, like their reunion’s always been fated to happen this way. So she doesn’t think about it. Evie tells herself she’s not stopping for the funeral; she’s going to drive until she hits the other coast. She sings with the radio, turning it up to mask when her pitch falters over the high notes and if she doesn’t know the words she makes them up. When the radio station breaks for commercials she hums the song she hopes they’ll play next.

There’s a gentle, banked-up curve in the road ahead. She barely dips under seventy taking it, then pushes up to eighty-five when she levels out on the straightaway. That’s the beauty of the plains: inertia at breakneck speeds.

On the radio static cuts in then resolves into another song, “How to Disappear Completely”. There are lights ahead and she decides she must be picking up a college radio station. “I’m not here….this isn’t happening…I’m not heee-eee-eeere…” she moans along with Tom Yorke, His clear, thin voice creeps into her brain and makes her feel weepy and small. She looks for the next exit, annoyed to find herself so emotional when really it’s just exhaustion that would have her teary-eyed, wrecked in a ditch if she doesn’t pull over to rest.

The off-ramp feeds her into a modest collection of buildings, a town only four blocks wide clinging to life by a well-used rail yard. She pulls in to the depot and tries laying across the front seat to nap, but it’s deafeningly silent without the radio and the road noise. She feels more awake now than before. Finally she sits up.

Outside the snow’s piling deep at the sides of roads and drifted like dunes across the bare acres. Depending on the music playing on the radio, this could be the heart-warmingest, whitest Christmas scene or the last town on planet earth just before the undead come staggering through the snow. She heaves herself over the front seat, it digs into her middle like it would cut her in half, and she reaches for one of the two bags she’s packed., the one that rattles with cans of spray paint. She drags it by the shoulder strap across the seat and out into the cold with her.

She does this when she can’t sleep at home, too—tags boxcars. There’s one sitting just outside of the circle of light falling from the yard lamp and with the little town behind her dark as wilderness, she walks boldly across the crusty ground.

She hangs the bag off the boxcar’s front coupling and inspects her canvass. It’s broad and rusted out, but pristine in that there’s only the crisp, stenciled markings its manufacturers put on the metal. No one else’s work to paint over.

Evie pulls a dark indigo out of the bag and pops the cap. She makes long sweeping streaks. She digs in the bag for another color, then another, another. The dark streaks comprise the strata of the night sky. She stands on her toes, she bends to her knees, gets them wet in the snow. She covers the whole boxcar until the colors accumulate like clouds. Until the side of the boxcar looks like a clear window open to the night sky. Like she’s erasing the boxcar, blending it into the scenery.

When she’s done she gathers the caps and stows the paints. They clink in the bag at her side. She’s exhausted herself and this time when she curls up across the cramped front seat it’s easy to sleep.


It’s a fishbowl sound that wakes her. Someone tapping on the glass. Evie looks up to find a wiry man uniformed in khaki, poised to knock again. His skin looks craggy and chapped and she wonders how long he’s been trying to wake her.

She sits up with difficulty, stiff from the cold and the weird way she folded her body to keep all of it under her coat. Now she pulls it on and clutches at it like a robe when she creaks her door open. “Morning,” the man says.

The haul and creak of metal draw her eyes to the track where her boxcar is coupled and rolling out. She matches the dark streaks of her painted sky to the glowing fingers of red, pink and orange reaching out from the dawning sun. As it moves, her boxcar flashes in front of the sunrise like an eclipse.

“Morning,” Evie says.

“You okay, miss?” It sounds more like accusation than concern.

“Yeah. I’m fine. Just pulled off the interstate to get a little rest.” The man grunts gently and nods his head. In daylight, the town reveals itself to be a short stretch of low, flat buildings in the shadow of a grain elevator at one end of the street, a church steeple rising at the other, its thin, black shadow slashed over tidy little homes. “Where am I?”

“This is Tomahawk,” he says. “Where were you looking to be?”

“I just need to get a little further east.”

“That’s quite a ways away.”


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